US President George W Bush on Wednesday called for more freedom of expression and religion in China as he defended his participation in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, reported dpa.
"I have been meeting Chinese leaders for seven and a half years, and my message has been the same: You should not fear religious people in your society," Bush said while on a visit to Seoul before heading to Beijing Thursday.
"As a matter of fact, religious people will make your society a better place," he said while also urging China's leaders to welcome people being able to freely express their opinions.
Bush has been criticized by some China critics for agreeing to attend Friday's opening ceremony as they attacked Beijing for its human rights record, its crackdown in Tibet this spring and its support for repressive regimes, such as those in Sudan and Myanmar.
"The reason I'm going to the Olympics is twofold - one, to show my respect for the people of China, and two, to cheer on the US team," said the president, who leaves office in January.
Bush has said his visit to Beijing is focussed on the Olympics and celebrating the Olympics spirit, but he plans to attend a Christian church service Sunday in a country where the government forces churches to register or disband, and advisers said he plans to bring up political issues while meeting with Chinese leaders.
Bush met Wednesday with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, and both leaders called on North Korea to meet its denuclearization pledge.
South Korea was the first stop on Bush's weeklong, three-nation Asia trip. He is to travel Wednesday to Thailand before heading for Beijing.