Bush, Dalai Lama Discuss China Curbs; Religious Persecution a Focus

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Sammon, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush yesterday met with Tibet's Dalai Lama to discuss religious persecution in China, a topic Mr. Bush plans to raise with Chinese officials during a visit to Beijing next week.

The Dalai Lama meeting comes on the heels of Beijing handing jail terms to a family of Bible distributors and the day before a planned Falun Gong demonstration outside the White House demanding more U.S. pressure on China.

"We strongly support religious freedom," White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday. "And when there are countries that are not allowing for religious freedom within their borders, we are going to point that out."

The president said this week that he will raise religious freedom as an issue when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"I will continue to remind President Hu about, for example, my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely," he told a round table of Asian journalists on Tuesday. "And a vibrant, whole society is one that recognizes that certain freedoms are inherent and need to be part of a complete society."

However, the White House played down the Dalai Lama's visit yesterday, classifying it as private and releasing no official transcripts, holding no press conference and barring press photographers. The Dalai Lama did not comment, and Mr. Bush made only one passing reference to the meeting, at a later event honoring recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Still, the meeting won applause from activists on religious freedom in China.

"Today's presidential meeting sends a signal that the U.S. government really cares about not only Tibet, but also religious freedom in all of China," said professor Larry Liu of American University. "It's a very strong message. …