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>China, Let Those People Go

>In preparation for the Olympics, which started today, China rounded up any and all free-speech advocates in and around Beijing and other cities where the games will take place. They are now “enjoying” free meals and 24-hour “protection” from the harsh misty pollution of the outside. Though I doubt their “boxes” are air conditioned and I’m sure they are hot and very uncomfortable, which is typical Chinese torture for which this repressive regime is famous.

Bush was right to criticize the lack of openness in China as he opened the “massive” U.S. embassy in China’s capitol city. Here are his words:

He prodded China to lessen repression and “let people say what they think.” One must remember that this is a communist nation and its leaders tolerate only government-approved religions. Tell me, which ones are they? I know that Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Jehova Witnesses, and other western churches can’t proselytize here, though the Catholics have some kind of presence and the Mormons have a temple in Hong Kong. China has rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship, all contrary to Beijing’s commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

I hope someone is keeping count on Chinese promises made and kept. No doubt, they will be coming back in five years wanting to stage another extraviganza and the world should turn thumps down on that. In a way, John McCain is right. President Bush shouldn’t even be in Beijing for these games as a sign that he strongly opposes the treatment China is meting out to its neighbor Tibet.

Obviously, Bush thought he could better get the word out in person, rather than merely boycotting the games. Besides, he wanted to include his father. George W.H. Bush was instrumental in getting some semblance of peaceful talks started thirty years ago under the Nixon Administration and for him this is a sentimental journey.

“We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful,” Bush said at the vast American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

His comments came on the heels of a speech Thursday in Bangkok in which he urged greater freedoms for the Chinese people. Beijing responded by defending its human rights record and saying Bush shouldn’t be meddling in its internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China’s contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States as strong, enduring and candid.

“Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust,” Bush said. “I’ve worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust.” Obviously, China needs to do more to build that trust. The millions of people in Chinese jails would like to be free.

The new U.S. embassy is its second-largest in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, and Bush said this is symbolic of China’s importance to the United States.

“It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations,” Bush said. “It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come.”

The ceremony took place with a heavy haze engulfing the Chinese capital despite concerted government efforts to slash pollution before the games. It was full of emotional resonance, with those attending including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state during the Nixon presidency when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

Much has changed since. While there still are lots of bicycles, cars dominant the streets today. Skyscrapers have sprouted like mushrooms. And the proliferation of construction cranes shows the building boom is far from over — evidence of the country’s economic growth — though most of the work has ground to a halt to help the anti-pollution battle.

The American embassy, on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone, is wrapped in freestanding transparent and opaque glass.

The dedication followed China’s unveiling of its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week. That 250,000-square-foot glass-and-limestone compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

The number eight is considered auspicious in China — Friday is 8/8/08 on the calendar — so the embassy ceremony began at 8:08 a.m. local time. The opening ceremonies begin exactly 12 hours later at 8:08 p.m.

Bush, the first American president event to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, was to meet with U.S. athletes right before the ceremonies