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Bush, China's leader tackle fiscal frictions

US leader starts day at morning church service

BEIJING -- President Bush called on China today to expand religious, political, and social freedoms, and he sought steps to reduce Beijing's huge trade surplus with the United States. President Hu Jintao promised action to resolve the economic frictions.

The two leaders conferred at the Great Hall of the People on the edge of Tiananmen Square, and Hu said they both sought an outcome of ''mutual benefit and win-win results."

There appeared to be no breakthroughs about US demands for currency reforms in China and no concrete announcement about how China would cut its trade surplus with the United States, on track to hit $200 billion this year.

Hu promised Bush that China will take steps to reduce its trade imbalance with the United States, but he did not discuss any specific steps. He said China was willing to boost protection for intellectual property rights and would ''unswervingly" press ahead with currency reform. The United States has said Beijing has not lived up to its promise for improvement on currency.

''The two sides expressed their willingness to join hands together to gradually achieve a balance of trade between China and the United States," Hu said through a translator. ''The frictions and problems that may arise in this rapid development of the two-way trade may be properly addressed through consultations."

The two leaders met amid tensions about China's rising economy and military might. They readily acknowledged differences but stressed areas of cooperation, from preventing and controlling bird flu to persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid, diplomatic recognition, and security guarantees.

''Our two nations seek a Korean peninsula that is stable, at peace, and free of nuclear weapons," Bush said as he thanked China for leading the six-country talks about North Korea's nuclear program.

Trying to send a message to China's leaders, Bush opened the day by attending church services, taking a front-row seat with his wife, Laura, at Gangwashi Church, one of five officially recognized Protestant churches in Beijing.

''It wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society," the president said after the hourlong service. ''My hope is that the government of China will not fear the Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths."

In a day of talks, the president was expected to trumpet a trade concession from China. He also planned to prod Chinese leaders about currency system changes, rights, and the piracy of American movies, computer programs, and other copyright material. Bush also was seeking China's cooperation on North Korea, Iran, Syria, and other trouble spots.

Bush, however, chose to make the worship service his first public event during a two-day state visit to China. The significance of Bush's visit to the church was clear to the congregation of about 400.

Bush received a standing ovation when he entered the sanctuary, which looked much like a classroom with wooden movie theater seats. There was more applause when the pastor announced his presence, and members of the choir assembled outside to see Bush off afterward.

''The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church," Bush said of the Protestant institution.

The service at Gangwashi Church was in Chinese, but its structure and content would have be familiar to any Protestant parishioner in the United States. Bush and other guests listened to a translation over headphones.

This month, the State Department cited China as one of eight countries of ''particular concern" for denying religious freedom.

The White House urged China's state-controlled media not to censor news of Bush's visit, which includes meetings and dinner with China's top leaders.

China's trade surplus is a political headache for Bush. So it was good news when he heard upon his arrival that Beijing plans to buy 70 of Chicago-based Boeing Co.'s 737 planes. The administration said the purchase was ''a testament to how our approach to China is yielding real results."

But Bush said in his weekly radio address yesterday that China needs to do more ''to provide a level playing field for American farmers and businesses seeking access to China's market."

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