Bush Vows to Push China to Honor Religious Freedom

President Bush pledged to maintain pressure on China for its religious freedom violations in his speech Monday in honor of the 10th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act.

"We remember those seeking religious freedom in China, and we honor those who press for their liberties," Bush said.

He recalled the meeting with Chinese dissident and human rights lawyer Li Baiguang last month at the White House. Li, a "house church" Protestant, has been repeatedly attacked and jailed for his work.

A few weeks ago, the human rights champion was scheduled to meet members of Congress, but Chinese authorities had blocked the meeting and detained him.

"This determined man has pledged: 'I'll continue to seek justice for victims of rights abuses, and promote the rule of law in China,'" Bush recalled. "And my message to President Hu Jintao, when I last met him, was this: So long as there are those who want to fight for their liberty, the United States stands with them."

Bush had met President Hu Jintao last week on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Japan.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Monday urged Bush to use his upcoming visit to the Beijing Olypmics to visit with prominent human rights defenders and religious leaders and make a strong public statement about the importance of religious freedom and human rights to U.S.-China relations.

"The international community awarded China the 2008 Summer Games with the trust that Beijing would improve its protections of fundamental human rights, including the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief," said Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer. "The Commission concludes that China has not lived up to its promises and continues to engage in serious violations of religious freedom."

"We know President Bush has a strong, personal commitment to the issue of religious freedom in China. We hope he will convey his convictions in tangible ways, not only to China's leaders, but to its people," Gaer said.

In his speech, Bush specifically mentioned religious freedom violators Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, North Korea, Burma, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. But China received the president's most detailed comments and expression of concern.

Bush did note, however, that some countries had made progress on religious freedom, including Vietnam.

"And so as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, we pray that all those who seek their God will be able to do so free of oppression and fear," Bush concluded.

The International Religious Freedom Act established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to monitor the state of religious liberty worldwide. It has also established the position of ambassador for religious freedom, required annual updates on the state of religious freedom in every nation and authorized sanctions against regimes.