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Chinese hope Bush visit will foster an image of warming relations

BEIJING—China on Friday cast aside worries that President Bush might offer a lecture on human rights during a weekend visit and voiced confidence that U.S. views of China are moving "in a positive, practical direction."

Bush arrives in China's capital from South Korea late Saturday. He'll attend a church service Sunday morning, then meet China's two highest leaders. The next day, he's expected to take a short bike ride through Beijing's streets before leaving for Mongolia.

The visit has sparked hopes in China that Bush and President Hu Jintao will build consensus on a number of issues, ranging from avian flu to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and thwart efforts to portray the two nations as potential adversaries.

If the meetings turn out to be short on substance, that may not bother the Chinese, who want the visit to emphasize that Sino-American relations are generally on the right track.

State-run Chinese media suggested Friday that U.S. policy toward China has taken a pragmatic turn in recent months, moving away from a view of a "China threat" from the nation's growing economic might.

"Many analysts believe the mainstream U.S. opinion towards China is turning in a positive, practical direction," said an article on the Web site of People's Daily, the Communist Party's newspaper.

Chinese scholars dismissed concerns that Bush may bring up human rights or religious-freedom issues, as he did in a speech Wednesday in Kyoto, Japan, putting pressure on communist leaders on matters they deem sensitive.

"Bush has to talk about human rights to satisfy some domestic concerns," said Jia Qingguo, the deputy head of international studies at Beijing University. "But I think what he wants to achieve most during this trip is to establish a strategic cooperation between China and the U.S."

China got a boost this week from Bush's father, whom the Chinese consider an "old friend" of the nation. Former President George H.W. Bush, who served as American envoy to Beijing in the 1970s, urged stronger U.S.-China cooperation during a forum in Beijing that was sponsored by Texas A&M University.

"There simply is no more important bilateral relationship in the world today, in my opinion, than the U.S.-China relationship," he said Monday. He described relations as "good now, but they are improving," and added: "The best days lie ahead."

In remarks covered by the Chinese media, the former American president said, "I do not believe we are somehow fated by history to be adversaries."

One Chinese scholar said he expected little substantial to emerge from President Bush's formal meetings Sunday with Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

"From the Chinese side, there are only modest expectations. There are no urgent issues in Sino-U.S. relations," said Jin Canrong, the associate dean of international studies at People's University of China. "The government will try its best to make the trip look successful."

China didn't bristle after Bush's remarks in Japan, in which he said China needed to promote religious, political and other freedoms, and cited Taiwan and Japan as examples of democracy for East Asia. China views the island of Taiwan, a separately ruled democracy, as part of its territory that must someday be reunited.

Jia, the Beijing University scholar, said China's leaders understood that Bush faced pressures from a conservative domestic constituency that expected him to press China on greater religious freedoms and human rights. But he said the leaders also valued recent U.S. policy shifts that cast China and the United States as joint stakeholders in world prosperity.

"They basically believe that Bush is dealing with the complicated relations between the two sides in a positive manner," Jia said.

Certainly, the image of Bush riding a bicycle through Beijing streets is aimed at fostering the impression that the American president is comfortable in China.

"During the 1970s, 29-year-old Bush stayed in Beijing for a while when his father was director of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing. At that time, he often cycled around the city," the People's Daily Web site noted, adding that a Bush bike ride would "express friendliness with the Chinese."

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(Knight Ridder special correspondent Fan Linjun contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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