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Bush Attacks China on Religion President Embraces Agenda to Increase Religious Liberty

By Norman Kempster
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Washington

Vowing to make religious liberty “a guiding doctrine of our foreign policy,” President Bush said Thursday that China’s persecution of believers will thwart that nation’s aspiration for becoming a great power regardless of advances in military and economic strength.

Reciting a catalog of religious repression, Bush also said his administration will never condone abuses it says are occurring in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan and the former Soviet republics in central Asia.

Bush put the White House imprimatur on a campaign to stop the conduct of business as usual with regimes that practice or condone religious persecution. His words paralleled recommendations issued earlier this week by a bipartisan commission on religious liberty, although he made no direct reference to the report.

Bush’s assessment of conditions in China is sure to increase Sino-American tensions, already aggravated by the recent collision of a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft, as well as U.S. plans to sell arms to Taiwan.

“China aspires to national strength and greatness,” the president said in prepared remarks. “But these acts of persecution are acts of fear and therefore of weakness. 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 that “intensifying attacks on religious freedom in China” overshadow the advances Beijing has made in recent decades in economic liberalization, improved personal mobility, more secure property rights and increased access to information.

Bush said, “Churches and mosques have been vandalized or demolished. Traditional religious practices in Tibet have long been the target of especially harsh and unjust persecution. And most recently, adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been singled out for arrest and abuse.”

Bush did not suggest economic or political sanctions against regimes that persecute believers, although he pledged to focus international attention on abuses.