China's new rich to bring change, says Bush

FORMER United States president George Bush said yesterday that economic expansion would lead to greater freedom in China, and the US and other nations should co-operate in the country's development, rather than threatening sanctions.

''The expanding middle-class and demand for pluralism will inevitably move China forward to more individual freedom and more human rights.

''A China in which people benefit from not just the material attributes of wealth, but the emotional, spiritual and intellectual benefits of freedom,'' Mr Bush said in a luncheon speech at the Regent Hotel.

''Some see a China torn by internal divisions - with region pitted against region - something that in my view would be disastrous - divided as it was in the 1920s, the 1850s, way back before then,'' Mr Bush said.

''I see a much more promising scenario: China as open, responsible, a global economic superpower,'' Mr Bush said in his Citibank Asian Leadership Series address.

The former president, accompanied by his wife, Barbara, spoke warmly of the time they had spent together in China, when he headed the US mission there in the early 1970s, and reminisced about meetings with senior leader Deng Xiaoping and the late Chairman Mao Zedong.

Mr Bush was unstinting in his praise for China, criticising US congressional opposition to Beijing's bid for the Olympic Games and lauding the Chinese leadership.

''The West has to give credit to Chairman Deng, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji and many of you right here today in Hong Kong - for the economic miracle that is under way,'' he said, adding for good measure, that the ''same can be said for President Leeand others in Taiwan''.

Mr Bush said he did not condone the ''events'' in Tiananmen Square - indeed, he had proposed sanctions - but that he was opposed to threats to withdraw China's Most Favoured Nation trade status.

''I knew of the progress that China has made over the past 20 years, and I knew also that the absolute worst thing we could do was to shut China off from the outside world,'' he said.

In a question-and-answer session, Mr Bush ducked only one question: his opinion on the dispute with China over political changes in Hong Kong.

''We have a marvellous Kentucky expression: 'I don't have a dog in that fight,' '' Mr Bush said.

, before adding that he had great respect for Governor Chris Patten.