China defends rights record, accuses Bush of meddling

China said it is committed to its citizens' "basic rights and freedoms" Thursday and criticized President Bush for meddling in what Beijing says are its internal affairs.

President Bush meets with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Wednesday in Bangkok.

"We firmly oppose any statements or deeds which use human rights, religion and other issues to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, responding to Bush, who has cited "deep concerns" with China's record on human rights.

The spokesman added that China embraces the concept of putting people's interests first and is devoted to "maintaining and promoting basic rights and freedom of its citizens."

"Chinese citizens enjoy freedom of religion in accordance with the law. These facts are well known. Regarding the Sino-U.S. differences on issues including human rights and religion, we have always insisted on dialogue and communication based on mutual equality and mutual respect, in order to enhance understanding, reduce differences and to expand consensus," he said. Watch pro-Tibet protests »

In a speech on Asian policy delivered in Bangkok, Thailand, on the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bush chided China over its record of religious freedom and human rights.

"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush said.

"We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights -- not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential," he said. "And we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs."
Despite the critique, Bush praised what has become a "constructive relationship" between the United States and China in trade and diplomacy. He also said that the association "has placed America in a better position to be honest and direct on other issues."
Bush spoke at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok.

The trip to Asia is Bush's last as president, and he took the opportunity to shine a light on the well-publicized crackdowns on political dissenters in communist China, a country that has emerged as a symbol of soaring capitalistic growth.

"I have spoken clearly, candidly and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights," he said. "And 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."

China cracked down on protests this year in Tibet. Some demonstrators advocated autonomy and greater religious freedom, while others sought outright independence from China.

On Wednesday, four Tibet activists unfurled Tibetan flags and pro-independence banners near National Stadium in Beijing, a main Olympic venue.

Two men in the group scaled electric poles to display the banners, police said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Police took away "four foreigners" -- three men and a woman, the agency said.

Students for a Free Tibet, a Tibet activist group, issued a statement saying those involved in the demonstration were from the United States and Britain.

According to the group, one of the signs read, "One World, One Dream: Free Tibet" in English, while the second read, "Tibet Will Be Free" in English and "Free Tibet" in Chinese.

The group said the signs were on display for about an hour, but police said it was about 12 minutes. The demonstrators entered China on tourist visas, police said, according to Xinhua.

Meanwhile, the government's reaction to people protesting in northwest China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, home to a Sunni Muslim ethnic minority, also has generated concerns. The Uighurs are supposed to enjoy autonomy, as it is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution, but some seek independence.

Millions of Han Chinese, the country's dominant ethnic group, have migrated into Xinjiang over the past 60 years, prompting complaints that they dominate local politics, culture and commerce at the Uighurs' expense.

In the Xinjiang city of Kashgar, Chinese paramilitary police beat two Japanese journalists Monday, hours after a deadly attack that killed 16 police officers, journalist groups said.

China also has been criticized for its policies toward Sudan. Critics have said China is backing the African regime, which is accused of gross human rights abuses in a crackdown in the Darfur region. The United States has condemned the campaign of killing in Darfur as genocide.

Team Darfur, a group of international athletes committed to raising awareness about Darfur, complained that former speedskating gold medalist Joey Cheek had his visa revoked by the Chinese Embassy.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, speaking to reporters en route to Thailand, said, "We were disturbed to learn that the Chinese had refused his visa. We are taking the matter very seriously." Watch a report on the revoking of the activist's visa »

She said U.S. diplomats are asking the Chinese to reconsider their actions and emphasized that the administration hopes China changes its mind.

In Thursday's speech, Bush also focused on other issues, including the economic strides in China -- which endured "rampant" poverty three decades ago.

Beijing is "sprinting into the modern era," Bush said, and the "growth sparked by China's free market reforms is good for the Chinese people."

"China's new purchasing power is also good for the world because it provides an enormous market for exports from across the globe," he said.

Bush urged China to adhere to the "rules of the international economic system" and "act responsibly on issues such as energy, the environment and African development."

He said the United States and China are embarking on "a new strategic economic dialogue," saying the two countries will "discuss ways to ensure long-term growth and widely shared prosperity in both our economies, as well as issues like currency exchange rates and intellectual property rights."

Bush cited two areas of diplomatic cooperation -- the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program and the easing of tensions along the Taiwan Strait.

Pakistan Coalition cranks up pressure on Musharraf

Pakistan Coalition cranks up pressure on Musharraf

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's ruling coalition will ask President Pervez Musharraf to seek a confidence vote in Parliament or face impeachment, senior party officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Two ruling party officials said that course of action was decided upon during marathon talks between party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that ended early Thursday.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they divulged the outcome of two days of talks before the formal announcement at an Islamabad news conference, due later in the day.

Musharraf, who ousted Sharif's government in a bloodless coup in 1999 and then dominated Pakistan for eight years, was sidelined when Zardari and Sharif formed a coalition government after trouncing the former general's allies in February parliamentary elections.

The coalition has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, so Musharraf would struggle to win a confidence vote. That would crank up political pressure on the U.S.-backed former army chief to resign.

Soon after news broke of the coalition's decision, the Foreign Office announced that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani would represent Pakistan at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics — rather than Musharraf as originally planned.

That immediately fueled speculation the president had canceled his trip because of the imminent moves to oust him.

Political analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais said if Musharraf seeks a vote of confidence and loses, it sends a political signal of his weakness, but constitutionally it would not lead to his removal from office. If he refuses to take such a vote, lawmakers could include that when drawing up impeachment charges against him, Rais said.

"There is a strong likelihood, but not certainty, that the ruling coalition can impeach him," he said.

Impeaching a president requires a two-thirds majority support of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament. Musharraf loyalists maintain the coalition would struggle to muster it.

In October, Musharraf won his current five-year term in a controversial vote of lawmakers in the outgoing parliament which was dominated by his supporters. The current ruling parties — who were then in opposition — boycotted or abstained from voting.

Musharraf "will be asked by us to seek the vote of confidence from Parliament, as promised by him while contesting the presidential elections," said one of the officials from Zardari's party, which is the largest in the coalition.

The official said the coalition leaders would move a no-confidence motion against him if Musharraf failed to show that he enjoyed the support of the majority of lawmakers.

The official said the coalition had also agreed to restore judges sacked by Musharraf when he declared a state of emergency and rounded up thousands of opponents last November — just as the Supreme Court was to rule on the legality of the October presidential vote.

The officials said the method for reinstating the judges would be announced by Sharif and Zardari.

The coalition was expected to issue a joint statement. The other ruling party official said it would ask Musharraf "to show confidence, failing which we start impeachment proceedings. After that judges will be restored."

Sharif's party refused to divulge the contents of the statement before the news conference.

The former prime minister has been more aggressive than Zardari in seeking Musharraf's ouster and has repeatedly demanded the restoration of the judges.

Sharif spokesman Ahsan Iqbal said early Thursday that the coalition leaders were committed to reinstating the judges and promised "good news" in the upcoming announcement.

Rifts over the judges and how to handle Musharraf have weakened the four-month-old government and hampered its efforts to formulate policies to counter Islamic militancy and a slew of economic problems.

The president, a stalwart U.S. ally, has in recent weeks made more public appearances and comments — seen by some in Pakistan as an attempt to show he remains a political force. He has appeared intent to serve out his five-year term.

While he has little say in the day-to-day running of government and has ceded his control of the powerful army, Musharraf retains the constitutional power to dissolve Parliament. Analysts say he probably retains some influence with the military.