President George W. Bush on Wednesday offered a direct rebuke to China by holding up Japan and Taiwan as examples of free and open societies and warning that the people of China had “legitimate” demands for more freedom of speech and religion.

Opening his four-nation Asian tour with a speech in Kyoto on US-Asia relations, Mr Bush said: “As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened, even a crack, it cannot be closed: [they want] more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control and to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment.”

His criticism alluded to the case of Cai Zhuohua, a Protestant minister who last month was sentenced to up to three years in prison for publishing Bibles in China. The remarks, especially those citing Taiwan, could stir anger in Beijing, where Mr Bush is due later this week.

Beijing is accustomed to visiting US leaders pressing it to allow greater freedoms, but China’s leaders will be irritated to have Japan and, in particular, Taiwan held up as examples of successful regional democracies.

Li Zhaoxing, China’s foreign minister, responded by saying that the US should not meddle in the Taiwan issue and should refrain from supporting independence for the island.

“We can talk about the Taiwan problem with the US, but the US must recognise that Taiwan is part of China,” Mr Li was reported as saying in Busan, South Korea, where he is attending the regional Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting.

At a joint press conference with Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister, Mr Bush said he would do all he could to overcome local resistance to US military bases, particularly in the southern island of Okinawa.

The “gut feeling of Japanese people” was traditionally against bases, he said, but he would make the “maximum effort” to oversee changes made necessary by Washington’s global troop realignment. “We hope the local community will rethink that very hard,” he said. “The government of Japan will have to make a great effort in that context.”

■Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham, co-sponsors of a US bill that would impose a 27.5 per cent tariff on Chinese exports, said on Wednesday they would delay a vote for as long as until the end of March, writes Andrew Balls in Washington. They said it would not be appropriate to have a vote while Mr Bush was visiting China.

China revalued its currency by 2.1 per cent against the dollar in July and announced that it would let the renminbi rise or fall by 0.3 per cent daily against the dollar – but there has been little subsequent movement.

“Back on July 21, China promised to let market forces work, and they clearly have not kept that promise,” Mr Schumer said. “We are hopeful the president’s trip to China will produce positive results.”

The senators delayed the vote in July having received assurances from John Snow, US Treasury secretary, that China planned to revalue the currency.

Get alerts on World when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article