BEIJING (AFP) Chinese President Hu Jintao has rebuffed US President George W. Bush”s call to let "social, political and religious freedoms grow," but offered to show flexibility on trade disputes.
After a 90-minute meeting at the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, the two leaders pledged to keep relations between the United States and China on track and talk through what Hu described as "inevitable" tensions.
As their talks got under way, Boeing signed a four-billion-dollar deal in Beijing to supply 70 737 aircraft to China between 2006 and 2008 as part of a broader arrangement to eventually supply 150 737s.
"Win-win co-operation is the mainstream of China-US relations," said the Chinese president, who promised to work to reduce economic tensions on issues like currency reform and a massive bilateral trade imbalance that favors China.
The two leaders also agreed to pursue joint efforts to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis through six-country talks, and to ramp up cooperation to battle the spread of deadly bird flu amid fears of a global pandemic.
Bush, who began his day on a symbolic note by attending church, said: "It is important that social, political and religious freedoms grow in China. And we encourage China to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom."
Hu said China was "continuously raising the level of human rights enjoyed by" its people but that progress must reflect "China”s national conditions" and that the country would have "democratic politics with Chinese characteristics."
The Chinese president said Beijing would "unswervingly press ahead" with currency reform, "gradually" cut its massive trade surplus with the United States, and battle rampant counterfeiting of US movies and other goods.
US officials have expressed frustration that similar pledges in July and September have not borne fruit, even as US businesses and lawmakers have ramped up pressure on Bush to take punitive action in the absence of progress.
Tackling another perennial irritant in Sino-US relations, Taiwan, Hu said that Beijing was "committed to peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits" but warned that "we will by no means tolerate so-called Taiwan independence."
Bush, who said nothing on the subject, drew the ire of Chinese leaders earlier this week when he suggested that the mainland should emulate Taiwan”s blend of free-market and democratic openness.
The two leaders said they would next meet in the United States early next year — a visit that will replace Hu”s planned trip in September, which was indefinitely postponed because of Hurricane Katrina.
Earlier, after services at the government-approved Gangwashi church, Bush declared that: "My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly."
"A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship," he said after accepting a Bible written in Chinese and hearing the choir sing "Ode to Joy".
In the nondescript church”s guest book, Bush wrote: "May God Bless the Christians of China, George Bush," while the first lady signed: "With Love and Respect, Laura Bush".
But even as Bush sought to signal the importance of human rights to his visit, China detained or put under house arrest at least a dozen dissidents and activists to keep them from being heard, some of them told AFP.
Authorities on Wednesday started sending officers to stand guard outside the homes of a number of intellectuals and activists while detaining others in out-of-town guesthouses, those affected told AFP.
On a lighter note, Bush, a fitness enthusiast, was set to go mountain bike riding with Chinese athletes who are training for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Bush was to wrap up his trip to the region with a brief stop in Mongolia on Monday.