WASHINGTON, June 8, 1989 (UPI) -- President Bush, resisting tougher sanctions against Beijing, said it is uncertain who's in charge in China and that when he tried to telephone communist leaders he could not even get through.
''The line was busy,'' Bush told his first nationally televised prime-time news conference Thursday, during which he said he wants to preserve diplomatic relations and urged the Chinese government to restore the rights of the people.
''I'm still hopeful that China will come together, respecting the urge for democracy on the part of the people,'' the president said.
Bush, who suspended military sales to China on Monday in retaliation for the massacre of possibly thousands of student-led democracy demonstrators refused to discuss what other action he might take should the violence persist.
''I will announce it at the appropriate time,'' said Bush. He has rejected calls to sever diplomatic relations or impose broad trade sanctions, which he said would hurt the people of the world's most populated nation.
''Right now we are engaged in diplomatic efforts and other countries are doing the same thing,'' he said.
Then, speaking slowly and softly, he said, ''We aren't going to remake the world, but we should stand for something. And there's no question in the minds of these students that the United States is standing in their corner.''
Bush served as U.S. envoy to China in 1975 and has been encouraged by earlier economic reforms in the Asian nation. He said political and social reforms have been slow in coming.
''We can't have normal relations unless there is a recognition of the validity of the students' aspirations. And I think that can happen.''
Bush said he tried to telephone Chinese leaders earlier in the day, and that ''I'm going to keep on trying. I want them to know that I view this relationship as important, yet I view the life of every student as important.''
On other subjects during the 33-minute news conference:
--Bush again denounced a memo from the Republican National Committee that attacked new House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., with a reference to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an acknowledged homosexual. He also said, ''I have great respect for Tom Foley and he's the one who says the matter should be closed and he's right.''
--On AIDS testing, Bush said he did not want to end anonymous testing for the virus that causes the disease because ''there is a certain right to privacy that we should respect.''
--On the possibility of improved relations with Iran -- where a new leadership is taking shape after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- Bush said Tehran should back up its talk with action, such as freeing American hostages held in Lebanon.
--The president again defended the pace of his four-month review of relations with the Soviet Union, and said the U.S. arms reduction plan he presented at the recent NATO summit unified the 16-nation alliance.
--Predicted improved relations with Poland in wake of democratic reforms in that nation that included election victories by the Solidarity Movement.
Bush was asked if he had tried to call any of the Chinese leaders since he knew some of them from his days as the U.S. envoy to China.
''I tried today,'' Bush said. ''Isn't that a coincidence that you'd ask that question.'' Asked what he learned, he said, ''I couldn't get through'' but that he would keep trying.
Although hard-line Chinese Premier Li Peng surfaced in public Thursday for the first time since the brutal suppression of the democracy movement began this past week, Bush said it remains unclear who is in charge.
''I don't know -- you don't know -- she doesn't know,'' Bush told reporters, saying the situation remains muddled.
''I simply cannot tell you with authority who is calling the shots there,'' he insisted, adding that until the situation is clearer he will not move precipitously to further sanction the government.
But he added, ''There's events over there that no matter who's in charge, we condemn.''
In a message that appeared aimed at encouraging moderate elements in China, Bush also said, ''I don't think we ought to judge the whole People's Liberation Army of China by that terrible incident'' in Tiananmen Square, where elements on one army group opened fire.
Referring to the student activists who held the square in massive numbers and the Chinese students in the United States he has met since the violence, Bush said, ''My heart goes out to them.''