BEIJING – In a speech to university students, President Bush suggested China would be a stronger nation if it adopted some American-style freedoms.
"Those who fear freedom sometimes argue it could lead to chaos, but it does not," Bush told an audience of more than 200 students at Tsinghua University on his last day in Asia before returning home.
The idea of chaos among 1.2 billion people makes Chinese leaders nervous, as the nation's ruling Communist party represses press, religious and other personal freedoms.
Preaching democracy to a country that is more concerned with order, Bush argued that America demonstrates that liberty with law is not to be feared.
"In a free society, diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife and dissent is not revolution," he said.
The president also tried to convince the next generation of Chinese leaders that they have nothing to fear from those with religious faith of any kind.
"Regardless of where or how these believers worship, they are no threat to public order; in fact, they make good citizens."
Dozens of Catholic bishops are under arrest in China, though Chinese President Jiang Zemin said earlier in the week that they are not imprisoned for practicing their faith, but for breaking laws. A fine line separates religious activity from illegality in China.
Bush also set out to correct what he sees as mistaken Chinese impressions of America.
"I am concerned that the Chinese people do not always see a clear picture of my country. This happens for many reasons, some of them of our own making. Our movies and television shows do not portray the values of the real America I know."
Bush said that "like most nations we're on a long journey toward achieving our own ideals of equality and justice, but the United States is a beacon of hope" for many people in the world.
Bush noted that false impressions from stories about success do not demonstrate the community works many companies do, and often people in other nations ignore the fact that the United States gives billions of dollars in humanitarian assistance overseas as well as to needy people at home.
Drawing on the response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said Americans are generous in spirit. He noted the police and firefighters who gave their lives saving others were not ordered there by the government but went because of their own sense of community.
He also took issue with Chinese publications that say Americans bully the weak and repress the poor.
One Chinese textbook, published just last year, teaches that special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are used to "repress working people."
"While the books may be leftovers from a previous era, they are misleading and harmful," he said.
As about half the audience listened through headphones to simultaneous translations, Bush took questions from several students, all of whom spoke in English. The first two pressed him on his vow to defend Taiwan if attacked but he said that that commitment does not conflict with relations with China.
"I've reiterated support for the one China policy. It has been my government's policy for a long period of time and I haven't changed it," he said to rousing applause.
Bush cautioned both sides against using force. Many in Asia fear it is the United States that is threatening to use force, a concern compounded by the U.S. negotiation of the biggest arms deal with Taiwan — one that includes Kidd class destroyers and diesel submarines — in a generation. He tried to dispel that notion.
"It's important for you to know, and it's importannt for the people of my country to know, that my administration is committed to peacefully resolving issues around the world. We want issues resolved in a peaceful manner."
In Taiwan, the island's foreign minister, Eugene Chien, praised Bush's performance, saying the president made it clear that he supports a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue and wants to open a dialogue that would preserve stability in the Taiwan Strait.
In response to questions about missile defense, Bush said the Chinese people should not fear such a system. "I have made it clear that our nation will develop defenses to help our friends, our allies and others around the world to protect ourselves from rogue nations," Bush said.
In a moment of levity, Bush kidded a Chinese translator. "She's correcting my English," he said.
During two days of talks, Presidents Bush and Jiang failed to resolve their differences over Chinese weapons sales, including high-tech missile deals with Pakistan, Iran and other nations seeking nuclear weapons. Bush said the relationship is strong enough to weather that.
Prior to the speech, the president met with Jiang's heir apparent, Hu Jintao, vice president and frontrunner to lead China, who introduced the president at the university. Bush invited Hu to the United States in June for what will amount to his coming out party.
Hu will meet with Vice President Cheney and other American officials wanting to get to know the next leader of China before he steps into the role.
Fox News' Wendell Goler, Jim Angle and the Associated Press contributed to this report.