Clark T. Randt Jr., the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, also weighed in against a Bush-Zen meeting. An old China hand who has spent 30 years in Asia as a lawyer-businessmen and is fluent in Mandarin, he is referred to as "Ambassador Squish" by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Sandy Randt is also a good friend of the president dating back to their days at Yale.
But more important to Bush than advice from a college chum is what he truly believes, as the difficult days of what has been an unpopular presidency dwindle down. He met in Washington last year with dissident "House Christians" from China. Speaking in Prague, a week after his talk with Zen, Bush affirmed his position on the side of religious dissidents everywhere: "Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul."
In a city abounding in leaks, I first learned on June 13 about the Cardinal's visit to the White House via a circuitous route from an American Catholic layman. On that same day, Raymond Arroyo of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), the acclaimed reporter of Catholic news, made public that the meeting took place.
Bush asked Zen whether he was the "bishop of all China." Replying that his diocese was just Hong Kong, Zen told Bush of the plight of Catholics in China, including five imprisoned bishops. The cardinal is reported by sources close to him to have left the White House energized and inspired. George W. Bush is at a low point among his fellow citizens, but he is still a major figure for Catholics in China who look to him as a clarion of freedom.