President Bush heads to Beijing Thursday to become the first sitting U.S. president to attend the Olympics games on foreign soil. Speaking in Thailand hours before his departure, Mr. Bush delivered a major policy speech on Asia. He focused largely on China, praising its economic growth and its cooperation on terrorism, but called on Beijing to improve its human rights record. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.
The U.S. leader says this is his last visit to East Asia as president. Mr. Bush praised strengthened U.S. alliances in the region and economic growth, especially in China. His speech had a blunt message for Beijing, hours before he arrives there to attend the Olympic Games.
Speaking at Bangkok's Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, he said the United States opposes the communist government's repression of its people.
"The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates, and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential. And we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs," he said.
The president also praised China's rapid economic growth over the last few decades of economic liberalization. He expressed hope that political and social reforms will follow.
"Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions. Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China. They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century," he said.
Mr. Bush repeated Washington's call for Beijing to behave responsibly in its new role as a world economic power. He said a dialogue between the United States and China aims to ensure long term growth.
"Through these discussions and others, we are making clear to China that being a global economic leader carries with it the duty to act responsibly on matters from energy to the environment to development in Africa," he said.
The president had similar calls on other Asian nations to improve their human rights record. He said Washington seeks an end to what he said is tyranny in Burma, and called on Burma's military junta to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners. He said the United States will continue to insist that North Korea end its harsh rule and respect human rights for the North Korean people.
Before heading to Beijing Thursday, the president's agenda included a roundtable meeting with Burmese dissidents and a visit to home in Bangkok for children with HIV.
Beijing is the last stop on Mr. Bush's Asian tour.