China reacted angrily to harsh words on human rights delivered by President Bush today, just hours before Bush arrived in Beijing to attend the Olympics.
In addition to the testy exchange with Bush, the day before the opening ceremony saw more protesters arrested and the smog the Chinese promised to curb before the Games still hanging over the city.
The haze may be a metaphor for the controversy that has dogged China throughout the seven-year, multi-billion-dollar effort to host the Games, which Beijing hopes will mark the country's arrival on the world stage.
Bush, in remarks in Bangkok, Thailand, before his arrival in Beijing, voiced "firm opposition" to China's continued detention of dissidents. "The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings," Bush said.
The Chinese government issued a response, saying that it "puts people first, and is dedicated to maintaining and promoting its citizens' basic rights and freedom."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China advocates discussions on differing views on human rights and religions on "a basis of mutual respect and equality."
As for Bush's remarks, Qin's statement warned, "We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries' internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues.
Bush will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Sunday.
Over the past week, over 80 heads of state and government have descended on Beijing, the most to attend any Games ever. Other heads of state attending the games, in addition to Bush, include Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli President Shimon Peres. All plan to attend the opening ceremony Friday.
But one head of state has had to pull out at the last minute. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who is embroiled in an impeachment controversy at home, won't be attending the Games. The Pakistan Foreign Ministry today confirmed that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend opening ceremonies instead.
With approximately 24 hours to go before the Opening Ceremony, Beijing is still battling visibly polluted skies and facing a continuous stream of human rights complaints from all directions.
Journalists walking along the south side of Olympic Park this afternoon squinted to view the latticed steel of the Bird's Nest, known as the National Stadium, as it blended in with a thick blanket of gray fog.
Today, the air pollution index, which ranges from zero to 500, hovered at 100. According to Beijing standards, the city is "lightly polluted." By contrast, the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department labels this level of pollution "very high."
As athletes arrive and train in Olympic facilities, the murky air is a constant reminder of one of Beijing's major weaknesses. However, nine-time U.S. Olympic Champion Carl Lewis believes the situation has been blown out of proportion.
"I think it's an issue that's not going to affect the athletes because they're all in the same situation," the retired track and field star told ABC News. "There may be some that are affected more but I don't think so."
"When the athletes get out there," said Lewis. "It could be a torrential rain and they'll be like, 'It's the Olympics, get out of my way.'"