China Missed Chance to Improve Rights Image, Says U.S.

China missed a golden opportunity to show an improved human rights and religious freedom image during the Olympic Games, the White House said.

While millions of eyes were focused on the Beijing Olympics, the host country could have allowed protesters and activists to demonstrate without interference to show its newfound tolerance.

Instead, police arrested protesters and deported foreign activists.

"It was maybe an opportunity missed for the Chinese to demonstrate their willingness to be more open and to allow more freedom of speech, freedom of religion, while the world was watching," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto earlier this week, according to Reuters.

"So I would say perhaps we're disappointed that they didn't take the full opportunity that was offered to them while the world was watching during these Olympics."

President Bush, during his Asia tour ahead of the Olympics as well as in meetings with Chinese leaders, had pressed Beijing to show greater respect towards religious freedom and freedom of speech.

But China was irritated by Bush's advice, saying the United States should not interfere with its internal affairs.

Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom advocacy group, said there were some 100 cases where journalists or Internet bloggers writing about China outside the Olympic site were harassed, detained, or in a few cases, beaten or jailed.

Americans demonstrating against China's treatment of Tibet and its restriction on religious freedom were also deported during the Games.

Among Chinese citizens, house church leaders in Beijing were forced to sign an agreement to cease activities during the Games. Some prominent house church leaders were arrested and detained ahead of the game.

A report released this year had revealed details of a government crackdown on unregistered Christians, including funding a campaign to eradicate house churches throughout China.

China requires all religious organizations to register with a government umbrella organization. Protestant churches must register and operate under the China Christian Council.

However, many protestant Christians refuse to work with the CCC, arguing that God is the head of the Church and not the government.

China has an underground Christian population estimated to be as high as 100 million, although experts are quick to point out the difficulty in obtaining the real count.

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