Mar 07 Elder Bush: China-US relationship 'most important'

Aug. 09, 2008, 12:10 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Former President George H.W. Bush called the bilateral relationship with China the "most important" one for the United States.

Speaking Saturday at a dinner hosted by the China-United States Exchange Foundation, Bush said Chinese President Hu Jintao assured him earlier this week that the relationship between China and the U.S. is "the best it's ever been." Bush said that made him a "proud father."

Bush's remarks followed verbal sparring between his son, President Bush, and Hu over China's human rights record.

Former President Bush, once U.S. ambassador to China, was hailed at the dinner as having made a "massive" contribution to U.S.-China relations.

Those attending the dinner, held at the recently restored Jianfu Palace Garden in the Forbidden City, included composer-producer Quincy Jones, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, National Public Radio's Juan Williams and Hank Greenberg, former chairman and CEO of American International Group.

Bush, honorary captain of the U.S. Olympic team, left the dinner early to attend a ceremony for the team's first medal winners of the Beijing Games.

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SYMBOL OF SUDAN

Joey Cheek says American runner Lopez Lomong embodies the Olympic spirit, but he also highlights the need to help the hundreds of thousands of children in his native Sudan.

Lomong was the Sudanese-born flagbearer for the U.S. team at the opening ceremony. Cheek, a former speedskating gold medal winner, had his visa for travel to the Beijing games revoked because of his criticism of China's support for the Sudanese government.

Abducted by Sudanese rebels at age 6, Lomong escaped and spent a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to the United States in 2001. He qualified for the 1,500-meter squad last month, a year after becoming an American citizen.

Lomong had been outspoken about wanting to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in his homeland and is a member of the Team Darfur coalition representing hundreds of athletes opposed to China's support for Sudan, where government-backed militias are waging a conflict in its western province that has claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Cheek had planned to spend two weeks in Beijing to promote his effort urging China to help make peace in the troubled region.

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STAR POWER: Kobe Bryant has fast become the face of the 2008 Olympics. Fans are mobbing the NBA superstar wherever he goes. When the camera panned to Bryant during the opening ceremony, the stadium crowd chanted, "Kobe! Kobe!"

"They just like my name because it's an Asian name, easy to say," Bryant explained Saturday at the U.S. men's basketball practice. "Every time I come out here, I come out here in the summertime it's been a favorable reaction. And because of that I try to embrace them even more. Even when I'm in the States I try to stay in contact with them through chats and things of that nature. Because I do have a pretty wide base out here."

Bryant and the U.S. team play China Sunday night. If the U.S. blows them out as expected, it will be interesting to see the reaction to Bryant then.

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PARTY PEOPLE: If the people can't get to the party, bring the party to the people.

At least that's what Olympic organizers in Qingdao, the sailing venue, did Saturday, with their own Olympic opening ceremony a day after the real one in Beijing.

The coastal city of Qingdao is about 300 miles south of the Chinese capital, hardly practical for locals and some sailors, especially those racing in Saturday's opening events, to make a quick jaunt to the real Olympic opening.

So they had their own "Launching Ceremony of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad Sailing Competition" with nary a boat in sight to be launched.

The Qingdao opening was tiny compared to the real extravaganza, but it drew thousands, including representatives of each of the 62 nations racing in the Yellow Sea, with a few from each country carrying their national flag onto the stage.

There were also speeches, mainly in Chinese, music and dancing, and a lighting of the Olympic flame.

And not to be outdone by the Beijing ceremony, the celebration included a massive fireworks display that could hardly be missed by anyone in the Qingdao region, with nearly 8 million people.

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MULTI-COUNTRY ARCHER: Archer Khatuna Lorig is competing at her fourth Olympics, but it's her first for the U.S.

Lorig, who grew up in the Republic of Georgia, competed for the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, winning a bronze medal in the team competition. For the 1996 Games in Atlanta and the 2000 Games in Sydney, she represented the Republic of Georgia, where she grew up. She missed qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens for Georgia.

Now a resident of West Hollywood, Calif., she is shooting for the United States at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Lorig and her husband, Archil Onashvili hope to compete together at the 2012 Games in London.

Two Americans, Lorig and Jennifer Nichols, finished in the top 64 Saturday and advanced to the elimination round.

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DOPING: Two more athletes Saturday joined the roster of those banned from the Beijing Games because of doping accusations. Greek sprinter Tassos Gousis was excluded from the Olympics a few days before the games after he failed a doping test in his home country. Russian steeplechase runner Roman Usov has been pulled out amid reports he failed a drug test conducted at the selection trials last month. That makes 49 athletes so far pulled from the games after failing drug tests.

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