November 20, 2005
Bush, in Beijing, Faces a Partner Now on the Rise

BEIJING, Sunday, Nov. 20 - President Bush began a one-day visit here on Sunday with a first set of meetings with President Hu Jintao of China to defuse a host of tensions, even as many in Beijing argue that he will be able to apply little true pressure on the world's fastest-rising power.

In a brief exchange of prepared comments after conferring at the Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square, Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu committed themselves to improving their relationship, but also staked out their positions in clear

Mr. Hu said he intended to gradually achieve balanced trade between China and the United States, a statement that made it clear that the record trade surpluses that Beijing enjoys would be a part of the economic landscape for some time to come.

He said China was willing to step up its protection on intellectual property rights and help on counterterrorism, but he reiterated that on Taiwan, he would brook no compromise. "We will by no means tolerate Taiwan independence," he told Mr. Bush, at a moment the administration has been wary of China's missile buildup along the coast opposite Taiwan.

Mr. Bush spoke quickly, his voice tight. He thanked China for "taking the lead" in disarmament talks with North Korea, and noted that the North Koreans had agreed in principle to give up their nuclear weapons and programs. "The United States expects them to honor that commitment," he said, and without reference to specific human rights concerns he said "we encourage the Chinese to continue to make a historic transition to greater freedom."

In their remarks, neither leader made reference to Iraq, but a defiant-sounding Mr. Bush, stopping at Osan Air Base south of Seoul before arriving in Beijing on Saturday, told cheering American troops, "We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for." Those remarks came just hours after a raucous debate over Iraq strategy unfolded in the House of Representatives.

But in a sign of how much Iraq has dominated Mr. Bush's weeklong tour of Asia, he only vaguely alluded to North Korea in his forceful half-hour speech, delivered just 48 miles from the militarized border between the Koreas, where he stopped on his way to Beijing. Nor did he mention the stockpile of suspected nuclear weapons that the North boasts about and that the C.I.A. believes has expanded since the war in Iraq began. China is the key player in Mr. Bush's effort to find a diplomatic way to entice North Korea to give up those weapons.

Mr. Bush arrived in Beijing amid evidence that China has little intention of speeding the decontrol of its currency, which Mr. Bush has said fuels the country's trade surplus, or of curtailing its crackdown on the media and on academic and religious freedoms. On Sunday morning, he underscored his concerns about China's crackdown on religion by attending a service at the Gangwashi Church, one of the few state-approved and state-monitored congregations in the country.

That visit was a highly symbolic one: His huge motorcade - more than 50 cars - took him to the church, off an alley near Tiananmen Square. He took part in a traditional Protestant service and signed the guest book with the words, "May God bless the Christians of China."

The church was carefully selected - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went there earlier this year - and emerging from it, Mr. Bush chose his words carefully: "You know, it wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society. My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty."

White House officials on the trip say that the Chinese government rejected the idea of a joint news conference for the two leaders, eliminating any chance that Mr. Hu would have to answer questions about the pace of democratization.

In a measure of the wariness felt by the Chinese, the government said that it could only guarantee television coverage for Mr. Bush's visit when he goes bicycling with Olympic athletes on Sunday.

Mr. Hu may soon face an American audience. He said he would travel to the United States early next year for a previously scheduled visit that was postponed by Hurricane Katrina.

Aboard Air Force One, Michael Green, head of Asian affairs for the National Security Council, said Saturday, "We've made it clear to our Chinese hosts that the president's message is one that is positive about U.S.-China relations and should be heard by all Chinese citizens - just as when President Hu comes to the United States, his message is heard in full by the American people."

The state-controlled media in China ignored Mr. Bush's speech in Kyoto, Japan, on Wednesday, in which he cited Taiwan's democracy as a model for the mainland and argued that China was discovering "that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed."

That critique was relatively muted compared to the days when Mr. Bush spoke of China as a "strategic competitor." Officials from both countries now describe relations as stable, even warm, arguing that the two powers now manage their differences pragmatically. Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu appear at least temporarily in sync on how to handle Taiwan and North Korea, Bush administration officials and Chinese analysts said.

"I think the president has an optimistic view about how China is moving," Mr. Green said last week.

If so, that may be in part because an ebbing debate within the Bush administration about whether the United States should try to contain China's economic and military reach.

Foreign policy experts in China argue that even some neoconservatives in the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have come to accept China's rising economic and political influence as a fact that Washington must learn to manage rather than challenge.

Senior policy aides in the administration also say the differences between the countries seem easier to address now than at any time in Mr. Bush's presidency. But officials caution that festering economic and political tensions could still severely strain bilateral ties.

In what appeared to be an effort to calm economic anxieties, the Chinese have agreed to purchase 70 Boeing 737 airliners, Mr. Green said as Mr. Bush arrived in Beijing on Saturday evening. Neither the Boeing Company nor the Chinese government made a formal announcement of the deal, however, and similar promises have been made during other presidential visits, only to be altered after the visit.

Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, tried to quell expectations for the trip by declaring in Washington last week that Mr. Bush sought no "deliverables" to bring home, a phrase that apparently embraced both diplomatic and economic achievements, including an accord for China to let its currency float more quickly.

He is unlikely to get any: in the days before Mr. Bush arrived, the Chinese police detained or arrested religious leaders. There is no sign that Beijing intends to release anyone on the list of human rights cases Mr. Bush gave to Mr. Hu in September, when they met in New York.

Although Mr. Bush said in Kyoto that market-oriented economic policies would eventually lead to political freedoms in China, the country has moved in the opposite direction under Mr. Hu. Since taking control of the Communist Party in late 2002, he has jailed journalists, rights activists and lawyers, and put tighter controls on the news media and on many outspoken intellectuals.

Human rights groups and others devoted to the rule of law, environmental awareness and other causes have been harassed or shut down.

Chinese dissidents fear that the situation will only get worse after Mr. Bush's trip, when the leadership feels less pressure.

Another source of tension is China's currency policy. Under heavy American pressure, China dropped a fixed peg between its currency, the yuan, and the dollar in July. But it allows only minuscule daily swings in the currency values, far less than the administration says is necessary to correct a growing trade imbalance.

Chinese officials argue that manufacturers have paper-thin profit margins in a competitive export environment. Officials fear that anything other than incremental currency moves could threaten stability.