BEIJING – President Bush secured assurances today that China would move to reduce its huge trade surplus with the United States and “step up” protections for intellectual property rights.
Chinese President Hu Jintao made the commitments during a joint appearance with Bush after the two held a lengthy meeting at the Great Hall of the People.
Although Hu acknowledged that there were “frictions” that needed to be addressed, no proposals were announced and the two leaders took no questions.
The presidents met days after Bush delivered a speech in Japan urging China to hasten political reform and expand religious freedom.
Highlighting the issue of religious freedom, Bush earlier attended a state-approved Protestant church in the capital, then quickly shifted to the primary focus of his two-day stay, meeting privately with Hu to discuss trade, North Korea and efforts to prevent a bird flu pandemic.
Signaling his chief interest here, Bush focused entirely on business and trade issues when he taped his weekly radio address in Beijing. He did not mention the human rights concerns that made headlines in his speech Wednesday from Japan. His praise of rival Taiwan in the speech as a model for broader democratic reforms drew protests from China.
Before this third visit to China as president, Bush said he intended to demand “free and fair” trade, a catchphrase intended to satisfy industries that want access to Chinese markets while mollifying labor advocates and other critics who worry that free trade hurts workers.
Bush also said he would raise the festering issue of the low value of China’s currency, which Chinese products to sell competitively on the world market. Hu later said China would press ahead in this area as well.
Bush’s visit to China underscored the sensitive nature of the relationship with a fast-rising economic and military superpower that is challenging the United States for influence in Asia and around the world.
The importance of nuance was evident from the outset.
Bush avoided a potentially provocative gesture by choosing to attend a church approved by the Communist Party. And although he pointed to Taiwan as a democratic model, Bush reiterated his opposition to official independence for the island.
Bush’s visit to the church was likely to satisfy a key political constituency at home: Christian evangelicals.
The Gangwashi Protestant church in central Beijing is barely visible from the street, wedged between a florist, mobile phone shop and a bridal dress store.
The location of the century-old church underscores Beijing’s ambiguous attitude toward religion. Even as the officially atheist Communist government tolerates it, it is wary of any organization that might threaten it politically.
The result is official churches: those like Gangwashi whose clerics answer to Communist Party authorities, and unofficial “house” or “underground” churches, whose members are tolerated or persecuted, depending on local conditions.