Chinese leaders angry at speech as Bush arrives
President Bush arrived here Thursday eager to shift his focus to Olympic sports, only hours after China pointedly rebuffed his criticism...


BEIJING — President Bush arrived here Thursday eager to shift his focus to Olympic sports, only hours after China pointedly rebuffed his criticism of the country's record on human rights.

Responding to Bush's speech, delivered earlier in the day in Thailand, which praised China's modernization but expressed "deep concerns" over restrictions on faith and free speech, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a curt statement that bristled with anger over "any words or acts that interfere in other countries' internal affairs."

"The Chinese government puts people first, and is dedicated to maintaining and promoting its citizens' basic rights and freedom," said the statement by Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, as translated by The Associated Press. "Chinese citizens have freedom of religion. These are indisputable facts."

Bush had repeatedly said he wanted to attend the Olympics to pay respect to the Chinese people, but the most significant remarks in his Thursday speech represented criticisms of China, though he also criticized the leaders of North Korea and Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Draft released early
The White House released a draft of the speech a day early, in part to draw attention to the criticisms.

"Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions," the president said, speaking in Bangkok, Thailand's capital, before an invited group of officials and students. "Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China."

In Bangkok, en route to Beijing, Bush criticized the government of Myanmar, calling on its leaders to free political prisoners and ridiculing the constitution ratified by a referendum that was widely considered fraudulent.

With his appearance at the Olympic Games, the first by a sitting U.S. president overseas, Bush is seeking to balance his advocacy for democracy and political liberty with his desire to cultivate cooperation with China's leaders on a variety of economic, diplomatic and security issues.

Embassy opening
Bush attended the formal opening today of a new U.S. Embassy in Beijing, a single sprawling, modern compound that he has said reflects the progress made since President Nixon's historic opening to China ended years of Cold War hostilities. He said he was honored to represent the United States at the Olympics.

"It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations," Bush said. "It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come."

Bush hailed the two countries' work to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, battle diseases, respond to natural disasters and increase trade.

At the embassy opening, Bush was joined by China hands of a previous generation — Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, and former President George H.W. Bush, who was the chief U.S. representative to the country after Nixon's outreach.

The former president reminisced about his days in the city, then called Peking, when a young George W. Bush rode a bicycle around the city.

The new U.S. Embassy in Beijing is the second largest in the world, after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad.

The dedication follows China's unveiling of its own im new embassy in Washington, D.C., last week. The compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

Bush is scheduled to attend a lunch today hosted for visiting foreign leaders by the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and then the opening ceremonies, which many advocates have urged Bush to boycott

Bush will hold formal meetings with Hu and other senior Chinese leaders Sunday.