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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 10:53 GMT
Bush puts stress on human rights
George W Bush (left) with Jiang Zemin in Beijing
"Very candid and positive" talks
US President George W Bush has urged China to respect human rights, including religious freedoms, after initial talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin.

Speaking at a joint news conference, he thanked China for its co-operation in the US-led war on terror - an issue that has helped push tensions between the two countries aside.

The people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship, and how they work

George W Bush
But after the talks, which Mr Bush described as "candid", there was no sign of any breakthrough on the issue of weapons' proliferation and Washington's concerns over Chinese missile technology.

The meeting came 30 years to the day since Richard Nixon paid the historic first visit by an American president to communist China.

Mr Jiang said he wanted to boost ties between the two countries and had accepted an invitation to visit the US in October.

Religious freedoms

Mr Bush said relations with Beijing were "mature, respectful and important".

But he stressed his belief that people "should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work".

As long as the two sides act in a spirit of mutual respect... we will be able to gradually narrow our differences

President Jiang Zemin
"China's future is for the Chinese people to decide, yet no nation is exempt from the demands of human dignity," he said.

He had earlier highlighted the detention of American followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect and the imprisoning of Roman Catholic bishops.

The American National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, said the US had made it clear that China should release imprisoned religious figures.

She said President Bush had urged President Jiang to open talks with the Vatican and the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

But, responding to American reporters' questions, Mr Jiang said people were prosecuted not for their beliefs, but for violating the law.

He added that, as president, he could not interfere in China's legal system because of judicial independence.

Turning to international affairs, Mr Bush said he had asked Mr Jiang to restart a dialogue with North Korea.

He added that Washington stood by its support for Taiwan and said its opposition to weapons technology proliferation remained strong:

Mutual respect

In his speech, the Chinese leader said relations between the states could improve if they were based on "mutual respect".

He thanked President Bush for his invitation to visit and added that his Vice President, Hu Jintao, would also visit the US "in the near future".

Mr Hu is strongly tipped as President Jiang's successor.


Areas where the US and China currently disagree include:

  • China's military ties to all three members of Mr Bush's "axis of evil" - Iraq, Iran and North Korea

  • The proposed US missile defence system that China fears will lessen the deterrent effect of its weapons

  • China's export of sensitive technology to countries such as Pakistan

  • US support for Taiwan which Beijing calls part of China

Despite the differences, analysts believe relations - which hit a low last March when China impounded a crashed US spy plane - will remain friendly with the new alliance between the two countries against terrorism.

Mr Bush's two days in Beijing will also see him make a televised speech to Chinese students and - following in President Nixon's footsteps - visit the Great Wall.

The BBC's Adam Brookes
"China is on the side of the American people"
Dr Gao Zhan, American University
"It is a working visit not a state visit"
US President George Bush
"Our talks were candid"
See also:

21 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
China's heir apparent to visit US
20 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Neither enemies nor friends
20 Feb 02 | Americas
US-China dialogue warms
18 Feb 02 | Business
China and US reap economic rewards
21 Feb 02 | Media reports
Chinese President's speech in full
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