George W Bush: China owes human rights to its own people, not us

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I've been fascinated by China since my first trip there in 1975, when my dad was the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing. At the time, the country was emerging from the Cultural Revolution. Poverty was rampant. Bicycles were everywhere, and people were wearing almost identical clothes. It seemed unimaginable that three decades later Beijing would be sprinting into the modern era – covered in skyscrapers, filled with cars, and home to international businesses, as well as hosting the Olympic Games.

China and the United States share important economic interests. The growth sparked by China's free market reforms is good for the Chinese people, who are building a confident middle class with a stake in a peaceful future. China's new purchasing power is good for the world, because it provides an enormous market for exports from across the globe.

We have found other areas of co-operation. We're partnering to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. America has also stressed our determination to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait.

Our constructive relationship in these areas has placed America in a better position to be honest and direct on other issues. I have spoken clearly, candidly and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights. I have met repeatedly with Chinese dissidents and religious believers. 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 and human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights not to antagonise China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its potential. We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs. As Chinese scientist Xu Liangying has said: "Human nature is universal and needs to pursue freedom and equality."

Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow. America and our partners are realistic, and we're prepared for any possibility. I'm optimistic about China's future. Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted internet.

Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own 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're the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century.

Taken from a speech given by the US president in Bangkok yesterday

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