WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush is using the prestige of his office on behalf of Tibetan protesters, but his direct appeal to Chinese President Hu Jintao lacks a trump card.
Through a White House spokeswoman last week, Bush made plain he would attend the Olympic Games in August in Beijing, the crackdown on Tibetan protesters aside.
Bush considers the games to be about athletics and not necessarily politics, spokeswoman Dana Perino said. For the Chinese, anxious to avert a public relations disaster, the statement undoubtedly was received with relief.
In the meantime, leaders of France and Belgium have warned they might boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing to protest the way the Chinese are dealing with Tibetan protesters. But Bush hasn't got that hole card to play unless the crackdown intensifies dramatically and gives him a credible reason to change his plans.
The Chinese already have suffered embarrassment over their treatment of Tibetan protesters in Tibet and western China. They look to hosting the Olympics as an enormous boost to their prestige.
It didn't help that last week the State Department advised Americans planning to attend the games to take care and be mindful that they could be under surveillance.
"All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to onsite or remote technical monitoring at all times," the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs said. "Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge."
The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the U.S. warning "irresponsible."
The Bush administration has taken measured steps on Tibet, urging both the Chinese government and the Tibetan protesters to avoid violence as not serving either side.
But the U.S. position clearly is critical of Beijing.
China's ambassador to the U.S., Zhou Wenzhong, told an environmental conference in Washington this week that his government moved against protesters to defend law and order and not to suppress religious freedom.
"What happened in Tibet is a law-and-order issue," he said.
In his conversation Wednesday with Hu, Bush called for a "substantive dialogue" with representatives of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual leader who lives in exile in India. He also called for access for journalists and diplomats to Tibet.
On the access front, China showed signs of relenting by permitting a group of foreign journalists to visit Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. It was not immediately clear how much access they would have, though.
And, with it all, the Chinese leader did not give ground on the protesters. According to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, Hu told Bush the protests in Tibet were by no means peaceful demonstrations or activities of "nonviolence."
Tibet is only one of many issues marring U.S.-Sino relations.
The Chinese on Wednesday protested U.S. delivery to Taiwan two years ago of electric fuses for nuclear missiles. Bush tried to end the flap in his conversation with Hu by telling him "a mistake was made," the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said.
Taiwan had asked for batteries for helicopters. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and is trying to end U.S. military support.
China is regularly criticized as having a poor human rights record. At the same time, the Bush administration has maintained that China is an important trading partner and a world power whose cooperation is needed to try to get North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
The classic mixing of politics and the Olympics occurred when President Carter called on the U.S. team to boycott the 1980 Moscow games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before.
More than 50 countries supported the American president, but the games went on.
Four years later, the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympics in Los Angeles in what was seen as a retaliatory move. Allies joined, but the games set a record for attending nations, 140 of them.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Barry Schweid has covered diplomacy for The Associated Press since 1973.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.