President Bush and President Hu Jintao of China after their meeting late Thursday in Sydney, Australia. The 90-minute session included topics like climate issues and military ties.
SYDNEY, Australia, Friday, Sept. 7 — President Bush has accepted an invitation from President Hu Jintao of China to attend the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, a move that drew condemnation from human rights advocates and a Republican member of Congress, who are calling for a boycott of the Games.
Mr. Hu extended the invitation — reiterating an offer he had made — during a private meeting with Mr. Bush here late on Thursday, on the eve of an economic meeting of leaders of Asian nations. Their 90-minute talk touched on a variety of issues, including climate change, the recent recalls of tainted toys made in China and a new plan for a hot line to link the Chinese and American militaries.
But it was the Olympics announcement that grabbed the most attention — so much so that on Friday morning here, Mr. Bush defended his decision in a speech at Sydney’s famous opera house.
“I’m looking forward to going,” he told business delegates at the meeting, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. “It’s going to be a great moment of pride for the Chinese people. It will also be a moment where China’s leaders can use the opportunity to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance.”
The decision was announced while most Americans were still asleep. But by the time Mr. Bush delivered his speech, human rights advocates were accusing him of giving his imprimatur to a country that is jailing dissidents, denying religious freedom and, in their view, not exerting its influence as a major buyer of Sudanese oil to stop what Mr. Bush himself has termed genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Back in Washington, a Republican congressman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, said in a telephone interview that he and eight other Republicans would press a resolution calling for the United States to boycott the Games.
“The president’s presence in the Communist Party sky box is certainly contradictory to his so-called commitment to democracy in the Middle East or his emotional expression of concern over the genocide in Sudan,” Mr. Rohrabacher wrote in a statement.
Chinese officials said they were bewildered by the attempt to link Darfur to the Olympics. Ambassador Liu Guijin, the Chinese government’s special representative for Darfur, told reporters in Washington on Thursday that no foreign head of state had turned down an invitation to the Beijing Olympics because of Darfur.
“The Olympics and Darfur are totally different issues,” he said. “It’s like cattle and horses. They are totally different.”
Mr. Bush often says that the United States and China have “a complex relationship,” a phrase he reiterated during a news conference with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia this week. Michael Green, who was Asia director of the National Security Council under Mr. Bush in 2004 and 2005, said the president’s attendance would place “subtle pressure” on the China to improve its record on human rights.
“There are members of Congress who are organizing a boycott of the Olympics,” Mr. Green said in an interview. “The Chinese will dismiss their stands on human rights by saying these are enemies of China. But the president has credibility on Chinese-U.S. relations, and he uses that. He can do things like go to the Olympics and criticize human rights abuses, and the Chinese will listen.”
But Sophie Richardson, an Asia expert at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization, said Mr. Bush was giving “an enormous propaganda opportunity to an abusive government.” The group has not called for a boycott of the Games, though, on the theory that the Olympics could be used to raise awareness of human rights abuses in China. She called on Mr. Bush to do so.
Mr. Bush’s deputy press secretary, Dana Perino, said the president was going to the Games as a sports fan, not to make any political statement. But she said the president did raise human rights and religious freedom “in a forceful way” during his private meeting with Mr. Hu.
Mr. Bush, who once owned part of the Texas Rangers baseball team, did not attend the 2004 Olympics in Athens, which took place while he was in the thick of his re-election campaign. Mr. Green said he had known for months that the president wanted to attend the 2008 Olympics.
“The bottom line is he just loves sports, and I’m sure he wants to go, like any other guy, because it’s going to be exciting,” Mr. Green said. “I think he’s going to watch.”