BEIJING – President Bush said Saturday that China's embrace of economic growth and the rise of the nation's middle class will eventually bring more political freedom.
"Young people who grow up with freedom in one area of their lives will ultimately demand freedom in other areas," he said in his weekly radio address. "The China of the future will reflect its own culture and traditions, but it will also reflect the universal aspirations of mankind — and there's no deeper human desire than liberty."
The president, who is in Beijing for the start of the Summer Olympics, noted the rapid economic growth in China.
"We've advanced both our nations' interests by expanding free and fair trade and encouraging the rise of a Chinese middle class — which can be an enormous market for American exports," he said. "We have also cooperated on other shared challenges, from fighting pandemic disease to opposing North Korea's nuclear weapons programs."
But Bush balanced his praise for China with the reminder of the need for more changes in how the Chinese government operates.
"We have made it clear that trusting their people with greater freedom is necessary for China to reach its full potential," Bush said. "We've emphasized that being a global economic leader carries with it the duty to act responsibly on matters from energy to the environment to development in Africa."
Bush said he was struck by how much China has changed in the last few decades.
"I first visited the country more than three decades ago, when my dad was America's representative in Beijing," he said. "Poverty was rampant, and the streets swarmed with bicycles. Today, China is sprinting into the modern era. Beijing is covered in skyscrapers and filled with cars. And the people of China have more connections to the world than ever before."
Bush said America's growing relationship with China is one element of a broader U.S. strategy for the region.
The United States has bolstered its treaty alliances in the Pacific region to Japan, Australia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand and strengthened relationships with other free societies in Asia — such as India, the world's largest democracy, and Indonesia, a democratic nation that is home to more Muslims than any other nation on Earth, he said. The U.S. is also helping bring together nations throughout the region to fight terrorism and respond to natural disasters, he said, while negotiating new free trade agreements.