Bush confronts Beijing over Tibet
Urges president to resume talks, show restraint
WASHINGTON - President Bush sharply confronted China's president, Hu Jintao, yesterday about Beijing's harsh crackdown in Tibet, joining an international chorus of alarm just months before the United States and the rest of the world parade to China for the Olympics.
In a telephone call with Hu, Bush "pushed very hard" about the violence in Tibet, the necessity for restraint, and the need for China to consult with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the White House said.
After days of silence by Bush as other world leaders raised their voices, it marked a rare, direct protest from one president to another. As if to underscore how pointed Bush was, the White House said he used the call to "speak very clearly and frankly."
At the same time, Bush was forced to address an embarrassing blunder by the United States - the shipment of nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan and the failure to discover the error for more than 18 months. "It came up very briefly," National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters. "Basically, the president indicated that a mistake had been made. There was very little discussion about it."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had previously registered concern about China's actions in Tibet, but Bush's call raised the protest to the highest level of the US government. On the world stage, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France notably has suggested a boycott of the Olympics' opening ceremony in Beijing in August.
The United States and Britain have ruled out a boycott, and Bush has said he will attend. He has taken the position that the Olympics are about athletic competition, not politics.
Beijing has defended its use of force against anti-Chinese protesters in Tibet, describing demonstrations that broke out in the capital city of Lhasa on March 14 as riots and violent crimes.
"No responsible government would sit by and watch when faced with this kind of violent crime, which gravely violated human rights, seriously disrupted social order, and seriously endangered the safety of public life and property," Hu told Bush, according to an account by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.
China's crackdown in response to the most sustained uprising against Chinese rule in almost two decades has put Beijing's human rights record in the international spotlight, embarrassing and frustrating a Communist leadership that had hoped for a smooth run-up to the Olympic Games.
A group of Tibetan monks disrupted a tour by foreign reporters to Lhasa yesterday, asserting that there is no religious freedom and that the Dalai Lama is not to blame for recent violence. About 30 monks surged into a carefully stage-managed visit to the Jokang Temple by foreign reporters. They yelled "Tibet is not free. Tibet is not free." Government handlers tried to pull the journalists away when the monks protested.
Hadley said that Bush pressed for a resumption of suspended consultations between China and representatives of the Dalai Lama and that there was an encouraging response from Hu.
"It was interesting that President Hu said that the government was willing to continue contacts and consultations with the Dalai Lama as long as . . . there's an abandonment of Tibetan independence and stopping activities that involve crimes and the use of violence," Hadley said.
Bush and Hu also addressed the sensitive subject of Taiwan, North Korea's failure to hand over a promised declaration of nuclear weapon efforts, and political repression in Burma.
The White House said Bush told Hu that the weekend election in Taiwan of Ma Ying-jeou, who has promised to defuse tensions and expand trade with China, would provide "a fresh opportunity for both sides to reach out and engage one another in peacefully resolving their differences."
In the Xinhua account, Hu expressed appreciation to Bush for the US position of adhering to a one-China policy that opposes independence for Taiwan.
Hadley said it was "pretty interesting" that Hu was quoted as saying China and Taiwan should resume consultations based on a 1992 agreement in which both sides recognize there is only one China but in which they agree to differ on its definition.