President Bush pushes religious freedom in China

By August 12, 2008

China (MNN) — Human and religious rights organizations urged President Bush to raise the issue of religious freedom and to be an advocate for persecuted Christians. They appear to have gotten their wish. President Bush attended church and also had frank talks with President Hu Jintao.

In an interview with Bob Costas of NBC Sports at the Olympic Games in Beijing, the president announced, "I went to church here, and I'm sure the cynics say, "Well, you know, it was just a state-sponsored church." On the other hand — and that's true. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, "Religion won't hurt you; you ought to welcome religious people.'"

Carl Moeller, president Open Doors USA, an international organization which support and strengthens persecuted Christians, is pleased. "I think it's remarkable that on the occasion of the Olympics, that the President of the United States no less than three times in an independent secular interview brought up the issue of religious liberty and brought it up particularly with the President of China."

Moeller says the interview indicated something else. "I feel he's very sincere in his efforts to engage the Chinese government on the issue of religious freedom for unregistered house churches. Of course, let's not be naïve: it's not simply a matter of asking the unregistered churches to register under the current system."

While China is better in some ways, Moeller wonders what will happen after the Olympics. "Will there be a permanent opening of information and availability of worship, or will there be a reaction — a greater closing of the openness?"

In his interview ,President Bush also told Costas, "If you're a religious person, you understand that once religion takes hold in a society, it can't be stopped."

Moeller agrees and says that's especially true in China. "Some scholars estimate that in the next century China may well become a substantially Christian population and certainly be the most populous Christian nation in the world."

While this discussion was a good step forward, Moeller says, "Believers in China–especially unregistered believers–are still regularly harassed and persecuted by the authorities in a lot of locations around China. Our estimates are over 700 protestant pastors last year were arrested for some period time simply for normal church activity."

Moeller says Christians in the West can get involved by being an advocate for persecuted believers. "There are many individual cases for advocacy that people can become informed on our Web site."

The other way to help is by making sure every Christian in China who wants one has a Bible.  "Given the number of Christians in China right now and the number of Bibles printed legally in China, that's not a possibility unless outside groups like Open Doors provide ways for Christians to receive Bibles."

Information on doing that is available by clicking here.


BELOW IS A TRANSCRIPT OF PRESIDENT BUSH AND BOB COSTAS.
Interview of the President by Bob Costas, NBC Sports

Q All right, Al, we thank you. In a few minutes we'll have more of the women's team qualifying from Sunday afternoon here in Beijing. But now, live, we're joined by President George W. Bush, who has been at these games since the Opening Ceremony. You say the Opening Ceremony. You've seen Michael Phelps and company at the pool. You went to beach volleyball, the USA's win over China in basketball last night. What are your impressions so far?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I think the Chinese are being great hosts. The venues are fantastic. And our team is fired up — and so am I. I'm excited to be here. It's — it's such a thrill to watch our men and women compete.
Q You met with the ballplayers before the basketball game last night.
THE PRESIDENT: I did. (Laughter.)
Q What was their response to you?
THE PRESIDENT: Their response was — well, first of all, obviously these are great stars. And their response was, thanks for coming; we are really, really honored to represent America. And I was impressed by them. And of course they go out and put on a great performance.
Q And winning 101 to 70. Our time here is limited. We'll get to as much as we can. The Opening Ceremonies were glorious. There's much to admire about China's people, China's culture, and its present accomplishments. But this remains an authoritarian state —
THE PRESIDENT: That's true.
Q — with an abysmal human rights record. In the long run, is China's rise irreconcilable with America's interests?
THE PRESIDENT: No. In the long run, America better remain engaged with China, and understand that we can have a cooperative and constructive, yet candid relationship. It's really important for future Presidents to understand the relationship between China and the region, and it's important to make sure that America is engaged with China — even though we may have some disagreements.
Q You met with President Hu Jintao not just at the Opening Ceremony, but privately since then. Did you press him on the full array of American concerns — human rights, press freedom, Tibet, China's support of rogue regimes like Sudan and Myanmar?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes — and North Korea, and Iran.
Q It was all on the table?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely, every time — every time. And you got to understand something, Bob, I don't need the Olympics to advance America's agenda. I've met with Hu Jintao a lot since I have been the President. And, yes, I had a full range — listen, we agree with them on a lot of things. And we disagree with them on things. And that's the way the relationship is going to be. It needs to be, as I mentioned, constructive and cooperative.
Q This past week you restated America's fundamental differences with China.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q But given China's growing strength and America's own problems, realistically how much leverage and influence does the U.S. have here?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don't see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader, that has got great values. And leverage is — I don't think you should look at the relationship as one of leverage. I think you ought to look at the relationship of one of constructive engagement where you can find common areas, like North Korea and Iran, but also be in a position where they respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.
Q If these Olympics are as successful as they are shaping up to be, most people believe this only further legitimizes the ruling party in the minds on most Chinese citizens. And even absent true liberty as we understand it, the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people are much better than they once were. Therefore, what's the party's incentive to reform?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, if you're a religious person, you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can't be stopped. And secondly, I think the Olympics are going to serve as a chance for people to come and see China the way it is, and let the Chinese see the world and interface and have the opportunity to converse with people from around the world. This is a very positive development, in my view, for peace.
And who knows how China is going to progress? They've been through some very difficult political times — the Cultural Revolution, for one, where the leadership actually created violent anarchy and society turned on itself. All I can tell you is, is that it's important for the United States to be active in this part of the world with all countries, and to stay engaged with China.
Q Moving away from China for just a second. During the Opening Ceremony we saw you conferring with Vladimir Putin.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q We now know you were talking about the conflict that had erupted that day —
THE PRESIDENT: That's true.
Q — between Russia and Georgia. Now, Georgia is a former Soviet republic that is sympathetic to the West —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — and that is attempting to embody many Western values. But just as you need China, you need Russia strategically around the globe. You got to walk a fine line. What did you say to Putin?
THE PRESIDENT: I said this violence is unacceptable — I not only said it to Vladimir Putin, I've said it to the President of the country, Dmitriy Medvedev. And my administration has been engaged with both sides in this, trying to get a cease-fire, and saying that the status quo ante for all troops should be August 6th. And, look, I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia.
It was just interesting to me that here we are trying to promote peace and harmony and we're witnessing a conflict take place.
Q Right, no Olympic truce in this case.
THE PRESIDENT: There wasn't. And I was very firm with Vladimir Putin — he and I have got a good relationship — just like I was firm with the Russian President. And hopefully this will get resolved peacefully. There needs to be a international mediation there for the South Ossetia issue.
Q A couple more quick things.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q China is a nation that warmly received Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who has since been indicted by the International Court on charges of genocide.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Then this past week they revoked the visa of Joey Cheek, an exemplary Olympian who had planned to come here not to directly protest China's government, but to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q What's your reaction?
THE PRESIDENT: My reaction is I'm sorry Joey Cheek didn't come, he's a good man. Joey Cheek has just got to know that I took the Sudanese message for him. My attitude is, is if you got relations with Mr. Bashir, think about helping to solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. That was my message to the Chinese government.
Q As you attempt to press these points with them, do you find Hu Jintao not just warm toward you personally, but is he receptive? Do you sense any movement?
THE PRESIDENT: It's hard to tell. I mean, it's — all I can tell you is, is that it is best to be in the position where a leader will listen to you. I went to church here, and I'm sure the cynics say, well, you know, it was just a state-sponsored church. On the other hand — and that's true. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, religion won't hurt you, you ought to welcome religious people. And it gave me a chance to say to the government, why don't you register the underground churches and give them a chance to flourish? And he listened politely. I can't read his mind, but I do know that every time I met with him I pressed the point.
Q Your father has longstanding connections to China. He was an envoy here even before we established an official ambassador's position, during the 1970s, and he is here with you on this trip. So there's a connection, a family connection.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Yes, there's a great connection. You know, I can remember riding my bike around Beijing in 1975, and it is —
Q Only bikes then, just about.
THE PRESIDENT: — unbelievable how far this has changed. I mean, it is — and he feels the same way. And we were honored yesterday when the President, Hu Jintao, invited my dad and me and Laura and my sister and my daughter, my brother, for dinner. It was a — lunch. It was just a great gesture of kindness.
Bob, it's very important for the American people to know that coming here gave me a chance, obviously, to root for our team, and you've captured that, but it's also coming here is a sign of respect for the Chinese people. And this is a big, important nation. We'll have our differences, we'll have our agreements. But in order to find common ground and to move the world toward peace, it is important for this country to show respect for the people of the country.
Q Briefly, one more sports question.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q You have been outspoken — your past connections to baseball; you used a State of the Union speech to do it, to talk about performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Marion Jones recently petitioned you for clemency.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q She's serving time because of involvement in the BALCO case — one-time Olympic hero. We know many Olympians and in your favorite sport and mine, baseball, big names — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens. What's your feeling about this and how much do you, as an American, trust the integrity of the sports you watch?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, well, you know, let's just talk about baseball. Obviously one of the great things about baseball is we can compare the records of the players of the '50s to the '60s and the '70s, and obviously the 1990s, and it is very important for there to be a — for the sport to be clean so that the great continuity and the history of baseball is real. And secondly, we don't want adults sending mixed messages to children, that it's okay to shoot up drugs in order to become a star, because it's not okay.
Q Are you going to go to a few more events before you leave?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm going to swimming here — if you'd ever let me off this set. (Laughter.)
Q All right. You are dismissed.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.

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