I don't get a chance to say this very often, so.... (compliment to GWBush)

... good speech by America's 43rd president in Thailand, before his arrival just now in China. Official text, opening jocularities and all, is here on WhiteHouse.gov.

What made it good was that he emphasized the big picture -- that China, the U.S., and the world will be much better off if China and the US can cooperate than if they fight -- while also being clear about the values the U.S. should stand up for.  After the jump, the passage we hard-boiled journalist types call the "nut graf," summarizing his point. 

GW Bush gives a speech that displays some familiarity with specifics and some subtlety about larger themes. Plus a mixture of idealism and practicality! I will stop here and offer no speculation about what might have been in other areas of policy. But I will suggest that members of the IOC might read the speech as a guide on being both cooperative and principled.

From the speech's discussion of China:

...Our constructive relationship in these areas [environment, economic negotiations, military relations, anti-proliferation, etc] has placed America in a better position to be honest and direct on other issues.

I have spoken clearly and candidly and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights. I have met repeatedly with Chinese dissidents and religious believers. The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.

We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.

We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs. As Chinese scientist Xu Liangying has said: "Human nature is universal and needs to pursue freedom and equality."

Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow. America and our partners are realistic, and we're prepared for any possibility... Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions. Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China. They're the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century.

The government and people of China do not have to agree with those sentiments. But it's important for the American president to state them.  And the ellipsis marks the one naive-sounding sentence in the passage, thus:

Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted Internet.

The right reaction to that is: Maybe, maybe not. But on balance a good and, yes, properly balanced speech.  In fact, more sophisticated than anything that either John McCain or Barack Obama has said on the subject.  Sets up a discussion for another time, about the difference between candidates' rhetoric and presidents' rhetoric about China.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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