ABC News’ Jennifer Duck reports from Beijing, China: It was more than the air quality making President Bush’s arrival in Beijing a little hazy.
Soon after Air Force One touched down, a thick smog encompassed the president, First Lady Laura Bush and their daughter Barbara as they were greeted with smiles by ambassadors and Chinese diplomats.
Causing more of a political haze in the country was a speech Bush gave in Bangkok, Thailand many hours before he touched down in Beijing.
In a delicate balancing act, Bush voiced his “deep concern” over religious freedom and human rights in China but attempted to avoid a clash with the country before the Olympic Games by timing the speech nearly twelve hours before stepping foot in China.
“The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” Bush said in Bangkok. “So America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential. We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”
However, the timing and distance didn’t stop the Chinese government from delivering a terse response to the speech.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded in a statement saying, "We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues.”
Human rights groups and members of Congress including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been pushing Bush to speak out strongly on human rights while in Beijing, but it’s unlikely he will. Although the president will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and discuss political issues, Bush has made clear he will use the last leg of his Asian trip to see the Olympics as a spectator at a sporting event instead of having a four-day focus on politics.
“The reason I’m going to the Olympics is two-fold: one, to show my respect for the people of China; and two, to cheer on the U.S. team,” Bush said at the start of his trip to Asia. “And by the way, the order ought to be reversed as to why I may — went. I hope our team wins as many gold medals as possible; and if not win gold, silver; and if not silver, bronze.”
Bush, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, has said he is excited to see the opening ceremonies, the US-China baseball practice game on Monday and a Team USA basketball game over the weekend.
Aides say the president, who is known to spend hours mountain biking on weekends in DC and at his ranch in Texas, may ride on the Olympic mountain bike trail.