BEIJING - President Bush said today that he has asked Chinese President Jiang Zemin to help the United States reopen talks with North Korea.
In a news conference here, Bush said he asked Jiang privately to convey a message to North Korean President Kim Jong Il that Bush's offer to restart talks is genuine.
"He can assure him [Kim] that I am sincere," Bush said in the Great Hall of the People, China's parliament building on the edge of Tiananmen Square. "Not every theater in the war against terror needs to be resolved with force. Some theaters can be resolved with diplomacy and dialogue, and the Chinese government can be very helpful."
Bush's statement emphasized China's strategic importance in preserving peace in East Asia, especially regarding North Korea, which Bush has called part of an "axis of evil."
Jiang did not respond directly to Bush's request, but focused on the nations' common interests in the region.
"We want the Korean peninsula to have peace and stability," the Chinese president said. "We also sincerely hope that the contacts between the United States and the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will be resumed."
With the news conference, China and the United States officially put their often-turbulent relationship back on track. Bush praised China's help in the war on terrorism and invited Jiang to visit the United States in October. Jiang confirmed that his heir-apparent, Vice President Hu Jintao, will visit the United States this year as a guest of Vice President Dick Cheney.
On the most volatile issue separating the two powers, the future of Taiwan, the leaders focused on areas of agreement and cooperation. Bush gave no ground, but assured Jiang that the United States would not encourage provocative acts by Taiwan.
"We will encourage that there be no provocation, and the United States will continue to support the Taiwan Relations Act," Bush said, referring to 1979 legislation that calls for the United States to maintain the ability to defend the island in case of attack.
Jiang said that in their meeting, Bush expressed support for the so-called "One China" policy, which states that China and Taiwan are part of a single China.
China views Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.
The relationship between the world's most populous country and its most powerful one had been buffeted in recent years by the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and a collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet last year over the South China Sea.
On other major areas of contention, human rights and religious freedom, Bush encouraged China to recognize people's dignity.
"China's future is for the Chinese people to decide, yet no nation is exempt from the demands of human dignity," Bush said. "All the world's people, including the people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work."
Jiang initially avoided questions from American journalists regarding China's crackdown on religious leaders and groups that refuse to submit to Communist Party control. Later, he returned to the question, saying that China does not arrest people for religious reasons, but because they violate the law.
"Whatever religions people believe in, they have to abide by the law," Jiang said.
Air Force One touched down about 10 a.m. at Beijing's modern glass and steel Capital Airport. Beneath cloudless skies, Bush rode his black limousine along the city's broad expressways, accompanied by Chinese police on white motorcycles.
Beijingers stood along the capital's main boulevard, the Avenue of Eternal Peace, but the gathering lacked the electricity generated when President Bill Clinton arrived for a state visit in 1998 amid pomp and excitement. People here were more familiar with Clinton, who is popular among Chinese.
"Clinton's limousine was longer," said a shop worker as Bush's motorcade of about 30 vehicles zipped by.
Today marked Bush's first return to Beijing since he visited his father here in 1975 when Bush senior served as the U.S. liaison officer in China. President Bush could not have recognized much of what he saw this morning. Over the past two decades, market reforms have dramatically reshaped Beijing.
Once a drab, dull city, Beijing has begun to emerge as a dynamic, modern capital with art galleries, a wide variety of Western restaurants and thriving nightlife. Streets once choked with bicycles are now jammed with cars, including Audis, BMWs and the occasional Rolls Royce. Along a three-mile stretch of Beijing's main boulevard, Bush passed at least four McDonald's and four Starbucks.
It is a far cry from the city Bush described in his 1999 autobiography. "Every bicycle looked the same. People's clothes were all the same - drab and indistinguishable," he wrote.
Before heading for Beijing and the final leg of his Asian trip, President Bush said today that China, Japan and South Korea are lending "steady and strong support" to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
In South Korea, Bush told several hundred U.S. troops at Osan Air Base that the three Asian leaders he is meeting on his six-day tour are united in backing his coalition against the al-Qaida network and other terrorist groups, despite their regional differences.
"All three governments are lending support in our war against terror," Bush said.
Each stop of his journey, Bush said, has given him a chance "to look the leaders in the eye, to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation for their steady and strong support as this nation leads a coalition to defend freedom."
In South Korea, Bush peered through binoculars at the Communist North and heard stories of ax-wielding North Korean soldiers killing American troops in 1976.
Bush's visit to China comes on the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking trip by President Richard M. Nixon - a milestone that ended two decades of estrangement - and during an upswing in the often-turbulent relations between the two nations.