I know President Bush to be a man of courage and of deep Christian faith. So several weeks ago, when I read press reports that he was going to the Beijing Olympics merely as a “sports fan,” I was dismayed. And I said so over the airwaves.
Echoing Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), one of the most vigorous defenders of human rights in the U.S. government, I urged the president to use the world’s greatest stage-the Olympics-to press the Chinese on their abysmal human-rights record. I suggested that the president might follow in the footsteps of another courageous man, Ronald Reagan, who spoke out about religious freedom at the Danilov Monastery in front of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.
Well, I need not have worried.
President Bush spoke out-firmly, positively, and for all the world to hear and see.
In Bangkok, on the eve of his visit to Beijing, the president made his stance very clear. “The United States,” he said, “believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America,” he continued, “stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human-rights advocates, and religious activists.”
Not content to level his criticism from afar, President Bush stood next to Chinese President Hu in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and said the following: “It is important that social, political, and religious freedoms grow in China. A society which recognizes religious freedom is a society which will recognize political freedom as well.”
The president also worshiped with Chinese Christians at the Beijing Kuanjie Protestant Christian Church. After the service, the president told worshipers, “God is love, and no state, man, or woman should fear the influence of loving religion.”
The Chinese leadership was not pleased. As reported in the New York Times, the “Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a curt statement that bristled with anger over ‘any words or acts that interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.’”
The statement went on to say that “The Chinese government puts people first, and is dedicated to maintaining and promoting its citizens’ basic rights and freedom. Chinese citizens have freedom of religion. These are indisputable facts.” Sure.
How could the Chinese ministry say this with a straight face? In the lead up to the Olympics, China redoubled its efforts to sweep political dissidents off the streets and into jail cells. And if people come first in China, well, I guess the people of Tibet are not really people. And China’s suppression of the Christian house church movement and harassment of Christians in general are well documented by organizations like the Rutherford Institute and Freedom House.
So, President Bush, I salute you for speaking out on behalf of the oppressed, not just as you have done in China, but as you have done throughout your administration. And thank you for advancing the cause of religious freedom, not only in China, but around the world.