Bush Lauds Taiwan's Democracy Ahead of China Visit

Continuing his four-nation trip through Asia, President Bush on Wednesday praised Taiwan as a model nation for promoting individual freedoms. His comments come just days before a planned visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing. Alex Chadwick speaks with NPR White House correspondent David Greene about the president's comments and the continued tension between Taiwan and China.

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From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the first human bird flu deaths reported in China.

First, the lead. Again, President Bush in Asia, in South Korea now for an economic meeting. Before leaving Japan earlier today, Mr. Bush talked about the connection between free markets and free people, and specifically about China.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed. As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow, as well.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene is traveling with President Bush.

David, welcome back to the show.

And the president is due to meet Chinese leadership in a few days' time. How does the White House think China's going to react to these remarks?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, I think the White House knows that these remarks aren't going to be received all that well. China never liked to get pressure or a slap on the wrist from an American president talking about how they should expand political rights and move a little farther down the path to democracy. But in this speech as well, the president did something extraordinary. He brought up Taiwan as a society that he says has done a good job implementing democratic reforms and suggested that this is a place that China might want to emulate. That's not a message that Beijing wants to hear. The Chinese see Taiwan as a renegade province that belongs to them. They don't see it as a society they're trying to copy. And White House officials said this was deliberate. They wanted the president to suggest that democracy knows no historic or cultural bounds, and that there can be a successful democracy in a Chinese society. They said that the president was not trying lecture Chinese President Hu Jintao, but it certainly sounded that way.

CHADWICK: Well, he was careful to note in his remarks that he's had democracy conversations with President Hu before.

GREENE: He was careful to note that. He didn't want this to come across as something new. He was also careful to note that he remains committed to the so-called one-China policy, and he still is not in favor of Taiwanese independence. So he also gave a bit to the Chinese, as well, leading up to those meetings in Beijing this weekend.

CHADWICK: He repeatedly described Taiwan as a society, not a country or a nation.

So the president is in South Korea for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit; that's in Pusan, where you are now. He's saying we need more free trade, but trade is also tied to political freedoms. Here he is again in remarks before he left Japan.

Pres. BUSH: Freedom has made our two democracies close allies. Freedom is the basis of our growing ties to other nations in the region. And in the 21st century, freedom is the destiny of every man, woman and child from New Zealand to the Korean Peninsula.

CHADWICK: Now that's a carefully drawn remark, leaving out China. Isn't it?

GREENE: It is. The president's trying to push other countries forward on trade even as he puts some pressure on China to make some changes to its currency and make its trade relationship with the United States more balanced.

But this is all looking forward to a really important trade meeting coming up in Hong Kong next month. President Bush has been talking about this a lot. He wants to use that meeting to push nations start eliminating tariffs and agricultural subsidies that he thinks are an obstacle to free trade. We saw an example of that when the president was in Argentina just a short time ago. Agricultural subsidies in the United States and elsewhere really got in the way of a new free trade deal for the Americas that the president wanted. And he said he wants to use this trip to South Korea and the APEC Summit to generate some enthusiasm, as he put it, to generate some ambition for really tackling these tariffs and opening up free trade at those meetings next month.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene in Pusan, South Korea. Thank you, David.

GREENE: A pleasure, Alex.

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