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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Bush in Beijing


Bush in Beijing

The people who urge President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, this summer seem to think that silence, in this case, would echo more loudly than words.

We disagree.

The president should attend the ceremonies.

And he should speak there.

There is in fact no better forum than Beijing for Bush to chide China's leaders for their deplorable record on basic human rights such as freedom of speech and religion.

Critics of Bush's plan to travel to China — among them Sen. Hillary Clinton — sent a letter to the president last week that stated, in reference to China's recent crackdowns on demonstrators in Tibet: "We believe that your attendance at the opening ceremonies, rightly or not, would send the implicit message to the world that the United States condones the intolerance that has been demonstrated by these actions of the Chinese government."

Not necessarily.

Bush's presence in Beijing certainly won't send that message, implicitly or otherwise, if the president, in explicit terms, chastises China not only for its actions in Tibet but within its own borders.

Such a statement would hardly be a revelation.

Less than a month ago Bush, in a phone call with China's president, Hu Jintao, urged Chinese leaders to show restraint in Tibet and to meet with the representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.

We'll concede that we're not confident Bush would make any overtly political points if he addresses an audience during the Olympics. The president said last week that he does not consider the Olympics "a political event. I view it as a sporting event," Bush said.

Nonetheless, the president can express his displeasure with Chinese policies even if he doesn't speak as bluntly as one of his predecessors did.

When Ronald Reagan spoke to a crowd at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987, he made his point in concrete terms when he said, referring to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Almost a quarter-century earlier, a different president also traveled to West Berlin and spoke about that same notorious structure.

And although John F. Kennedy's 1963 statement was oblique compared with Reagan's, Kennedy's words delivered a blow of equal power when he famously vowed: "Ich bin ein Berliner."

The key point here is that neither Kennedy nor Reagan pontificated from the White House. Both spoke right at the literal source of the problem.

So should George W. Bush.


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