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Bush: China Should Move Closer to Democracy - 2002-02-22

President Bush says China should move closer toward democracy and religious freedom. The president spoke to university students in Beijing Friday at the end of his six-day trip to Asia.

In a speech carried live on Chinese television, President Bush told students at Qinghua university that he looks forward to a time when the Chinese people are free to choose all their leaders in direct elections. "Change is coming," he said. "China is already having secret ballot and competitive elections at the local level. Nearly twenty years ago, Deng Xiaoping said this. I want you to hear his words. He said that China would eventually expand democratic elections all the way to the national level. I look forward to that day."

In a speech that White House officials call a "humble" effort to share American values, Mr. Bush says the United States certainly has its share of problems. Like most nations, he says, America is on a long journey to achieve its own ideals of equality and justice.

But he told the students there is a reason his country continues to shine as a beacon of hope and opportunity, it is the rule of law that protects people's rights to choose their leaders and the freedom to openly disagree with their government. "Life in America shows that liberty, paired with law, is not to be feared. In a free society, diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife. And dissent is not revolution," he said. "A free society trusts its citizens to seek greatness in themselves and their country."

For centuries, Mr. Bush said China had a tradition of religious tolerance. He told the students that it is his prayer that religious persecution in China will end so everyone is free to worship as they wish. "Freedom of religion is not something to be feared but to be welcomed, because faith gives us a moral core and teaches us to hold ourselves to high standards, to love and serve others, and to live responsible lives," he said.

In a meeting Thursday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Mr. Bush discussed the detention of Catholic priests and members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. President Jiang said China's constitution protects religious freedom and those in prison are there not because of their beliefs but because they have broken the law.

Mr. Bush said America sees China becoming one of the most dynamic and creative societies in the world and it welcomes the emergence of a strong, peaceful, and prosperous nation. Answering students' questions, Mr. Bush said he wants a peaceful settltment of China's dispute with Taiwan, saying neither side should provoke the other.

Before the speech, Mr. Bush met with Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, who is seen as a probable successor to President Jiang. They discussed economic ties and the war against terrorism. Mr. Bush thanked China for its help in the fight against terror but failed to persuade Chinese leaders to stop exporting missile technology.