WASHINGTON -- Calling it a 'good sign,' President Bush welcomed the lifting of martial law in China Thursday and said he would continue to watch the situation closely.
'I view the lifting of martial law as a very sound step for those that are interested in human rights and the reform that was on the move and that we would all like to see go forward,' Bush said. 'There is no way you can look at that but not say that it is very positive. And we will continue to watch this situation very closely.'
The president made the comment to reporters during a picture taking session at the start of an Oval Office meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Anibel Cavaco Silva.
'I have taken a position that I do not want to isolate China by no contacts and set the clock back,' Bush said. 'And of course we welcome the lifting of marshal law. It is a good sign.'
Bush secretly sent two top administration officials to China last year following the bloody crackdown against students despite his public pronouncement of no high level exchanges with the Chinese leadership.
Martial law was lifted in Beijing Thursday seven months after it was imposed at the time of pro-democracy demonstrations, which were crushed by tanks.
Vice President Dan Quayle said Wednesday the lifting of martial law proved the president's policies toward China are working. 'We view China's decision to lift martial law as a step forward,' Quayle said.
Beijing hopes the move will help reverse declines in foreign investment, trade and tourism. China has suffered a drop in foreign exchange earnings and faces repayment of more than $40 billion in foreign debt beginning this year.
The State Department said the United States would favor World Bank loans to China for 'humanitarian' purposes, but would not support financial assistance for economic development.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the change of sentiment toward China on certain World Bank loans had nothing to do with Beijing's decision to end martial law. 'It is pure coincidence,' she said.