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Bush Prods China On Human Rights Ahead Of Hu Meeting

Presidents Bush (left) and Hu on August 8

Presidents Bush (left) and Hu on August 8

BEIJING -- U.S. President George W. Bush has taken another swipe at China on human rights and religious freedoms, a day before he holds talks with its leaders.

On a visit to Beijing to attend the Olympics, he used his weekly radio address to the American people to drive home his "deep concern" about the state of human rights in the one-party state that has drawn widespread international criticism.

"America has spoken candidly and consistently about our concerns over the Chinese government's behavior," Bush said. "We have made it clear that trusting their people with greater freedom is necessary for China to reach its full potential."

It was the third day running that Bush has chided Beijing for restrictions and he argued that wider freedoms will only bolster China rather than undermining the communist nation.

"This trip has reaffirmed my belief that men and women who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China," he said. "They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century."

While he has repeatedly insisted his public visit to Beijing was about sports, China's leaders may be in for a rough round of talks, since Bush says he prefers to reserve his strongest comments on human rights for private meetings.

And as with his earlier rebukes, he tempered his language with praise for China's economic prowess and assertions of important U.S.-China ties on issues like working to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

"Today, China is sprinting into the modern era," Bush said. "Beijing is covered in skyscrapers and filled with cars. And the people of China have more connections to the world than ever before."

After a day of soaking up Olympic sporting events, Bush will worship at a state-regulated Beijing church on August 10 and then make a statement pressing for broader religious liberties.

That will precede a series of meetings with top Chinese officials, including China President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The Chinese government has largely rejected U.S. criticism, saying it was meddling with internal affairs.

But Olympic sports will not be completely off his agenda.

Bush plans to check out swimming after church and then late on August 10 catch the U.S. men's basketball team -- full of National Basketball Association stars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James -- take on host China.