Bush denounces religious intolerance in China, Sudan
By Patricia Wilson
WASHINGTON, May 3 (Reuters) - Picking anew at a sore point in U.S.-Sino relations, President George W. Bush on Thursday denounced Beijing's "intensifying attacks" on religious freedom as a sign of weakness, unworthy of a nation aspiring to greatness.
In a speech addressing the importance of religious tolerance worldwide and in U.S. foreign policy, Bush selected China for special criticism, although the White House sought to play down the emphasis, pointing out he devoted as much time to discussing "the disaster area" of Sudan.
But in the aftermath of a standoff with China over the crew of a U.S. navy spy plane held following an emergency landing and Beijing's continuing refusal to release the aircraft, relations have frayed and Bush has ratcheted up the pressure on all fronts.
"We view with special concern the intensifying attacks on religious freedom in China," Bush said in remarks prepared for delivery to the American Jewish Committee. "The Chinese government continues to display an unreasonable and unworthy suspicion of freedom of conscience."
Citing "alarming reports" of the detention of worshippers and religious leaders, including adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and persecution in Tibet, Bush said: "China aspires to national strength and greatness. But these acts of persecution are acts of fear and therefore of weakness."
Bush also has expressed concern over last month's arrest in China of a 79-year-old underground Roman Catholic bishop along with priests and lay Catholics in the week before Easter, but he did not specifically mention them in his prepared text.
"This persecution is unworthy of all that China has been -- a civilization with a history of tolerance -- and this persecution is unworthy of all that China should become -- an open society that respects the spiritual dignity of its people," Bush said.
ALL HUMAN RIGHTS "A DISASTER" IN SUDAN
In its second annual report, issued last week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the United States to comprehensively prod China to ease its restrictions on religious freedom, saying the situation had worsened.
Until China loosened those restrictions, the commission said, Washington should spearhead a resolution to censure Beijing at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and require companies doing business in China to disclose their dealings in connection with access to U.S. capital markets.
The other focus of Bush's speech was Sudan, a country ravaged by 18 years of civil war. He named U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Andrew Natsios a special humanitarian coordinator to ensure U.S. aid went to the needy "without manipulation."
"We must turn the eyes of the world upon the atrocities in Sudan ... Sudan is a disaster area for all human rights, but the right of conscience has been singled out for special abuse by the Sudanese authorities," Bush said.
Millions of people have died in Sudan as a direct or indirect result of the chronic war between the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and non-Muslim rebels fighting for autonomy in the black African south.
The United States withdrew its diplomats from Khartoum in 1996, saying Sudan could not secure their safety. It has since restored a presence by rotating diplomats for short periods.
Although an ambassador is under consideration, Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, without elaboration, there were complications about such high level representation.
Bush called the appointment of Natsios "a first step."
In his speech, Bush singled out Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Bahrain for praise, saying they had shown "considerable and improving" respect for religious liberty.
But he said disrespect for freedom of worship in Iraq, Iran, Burma, Cuba and Afghanistan was "seriously disturbing."
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