Costas interviews President Bush.
Is anyone watching this? My rough transcription:
Costas: What are your impressions so far?
Bush: First of all, I think the Chinese are being great hosts. The venues are fantastic. And our team’s fired up, and so am I. I’m excited to be here. It’s such a thrill to watch our men and women compete.
Costas: You met with the ballplayers before the basketball game tonight. What was their response to you?
Bush: Their response was, well, first of all… Obviously these are great stars. Their response was thanks for coming. We are really really honored to represent America. And I was impressed with them. And of course they put on a great performance.
Costas: Winning 101 to 70…. The opening ceremonies were glorious. There’s much to admire about China’s people, China’s culture, and its present accomplishments. But this remains an authoritarian state with an abysmmal human rights record. In the long run, is China’s rise irreconcilable with America’s interests?
Bush: No, in the long run, America better remain engaged with China, and understand that we can have a cooperative, constructive, yet candid relationship. It’s really important for future presidents to understand the relationship between China and the region, and it’s important to make sure that America is engaged with China–even though we may have some disagreements.
Costas: You met with President Hu Jintao, not just at the opening ceremony, but privately since then. Did you press him on the full array of American concerns? Human rights, press freedom, Tibet, China’s support of rogue regimes like Sudan and Myanmar–
Bush: –and North Korea and Iran.
Costas: It was all on the table?
Bush: Oh, absolutely. Every time, every time. You gotta undertsand something, Bob. I don’t need the Olympics to advance America’s agenda. I met with Hu Jintao a lot since I have been the president, and yeah, absol–yeah, had a full range of–and listen, we agree with them on a lot of things. And we disagree with them on things. And that’s the way the relationship is gonna be. It needs to be, as I mentioned, constructive and cooperative.
Costas: This past week, you restated America’s fundamental differences with China. But given China’s growing strength and America’s own problems, realistically, how much leverage and influence does the U.S. have here?
Bush: Well, first of all, I don’t see America having problems. I see America as a nation that is a world leader that has got great values. And leverage is–I don’t think you should look at the relationship as one of leverage, I think you ought to look at the relationship as one of constructive engagement, where you can find common areas, like North Korea and Iran, but also be in a position where they respect you enough to listen to your views on religious freedom and political liberty.
Costas: If these Olympics are as successful as they are shaping up to be, most people believe this only further legitimizes the ruling party in the minds of most Chinese citizens. And even absent true liberty as we understand it, the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese people are much better than they once were. Therefore, what’s the party’s incentive to reform?
Bush: Well, first of all, if you’re a religious person, you understand that once religion takes hold in a society it can’t be stopped. And secondly I think the Olympics are going to serve as a chance to come and see China the way it is, and let the Chinese see the world, and interface, and have opportunity to converse with people from around the world. This is a very positive development, in my view, for peace. Who knows how China is going to progress. They’ve been through some very difficult political times, the cultural revolution, for one, where the leadership actually created violent anarchy as the society turned on itself. All I can tell you is that it’s important for the United States to be active in this part of the world with all countries, and to stay engaged with China.
(some discussion of the violence in Georgia…)
Costas: China is a nation that warmly received Omar al Bashir of Sudan, who has since been indicted by the international court on charges of genocide. Then this past week they revoke the visa of Joey Cheek, an exemplary Olympian, who had planned to come here not to protest China’s government but to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. What’s your reaction?
Bush: My reaction is I’m sorry Joey Cheek didn’t come. He’s a good man. Joey Cheek’s just got to know that I took the Sudanese message for him. My attitude is if you’ve got relations with Mr. Bashir, think about helping us solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. That was my messge to the Chinese government.
Costas: As you attempt to press these points with them, do you find Hu Jintao not just warm toward you personally, but is he receptive? Do you sense any movement?
Bush: It’s hard to tell. I mean, all I can tell you is that it is best to be in a position where a leader will listen to you. I went to church here. I’m sure the cynics say, well, it was just a state-sponsored church. On the other hand, it gave me a chance to say to the Chinese people, religion won’t hurt you. You ought to welcome religious people. And it gave me a chance to say to the government, why don’t you register the underground churches, and give them a chance to flourish? And he listened politely. I can’t read his mind. But I do know that every time I met with him I pressed the point.
Costas: Your father has long-standing connections to China. He was an envoy here even before we established an official ambassador’s position during the 1970s, and he is here with you on this trip, so there’s a connection, a family connection–
Bush: There’s a great connection. I remember riding my bike around Bejing in 1975–
Costas: –only bikes then, just about.
Bush: Unbelievable, how far this has changed. And he feels the same way. And we were honored when Hu Jintao invited my dad, and me, and Laura, and my sister, and my daughter, my brother for dinner, or lunch, it was just a great gesture of kindness. Bob, it’s very important for the American people to know that coming here gave me a chance to obviously root for our team–and you’ve captured that. But it’s also coming here is a sign of respect for the Chinese people. And this is a big, important nation. And we’ll have our differences, we’ll have our agreements, but in order to find common ground and to move the world toward peace, it is important for this country to show respect for the people of this country.