WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (AFP) - US President George W. Bush is "concerned" about China's Thursday arrest of 40 foreign Falungong members and will raise the issue of religious freedom during his upcoming Beijing visit, the White House said.
"The president remains very committed to taking this up, personally and directly, with Chinese officials," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said two days before the US leader leaves for a week-long trip to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
Asked for Bush's reaction to the arrests, Fleischer told reporters: "The president obviously is concerned with any arrests for religious purposes in China." The president is due in Beijing February 21.
Police made the arrests after the banned group's followers protested in Tiananmen Square in the second such demonstration this week -- and the largest so far by overseas
"There have been indications of improvements on some levels of the human rights and religious rights issues in China.
There have been other examples or arrests that run contrary to that improving trend, so it's an important topic," said Fleischer.
The spokesman said Bush "absolutely" still believes that engaging China is the best way to advance that agenda, but conceded that Beijing's record is "a complicated picture."
"Sometimes it moves forward, sometimes it moves backward. But as far as the president is concerned, he'll be consistent in always pushing for it to move forward," he said.
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