Peter, you are right to note that President Bush did attend the ceremony in the capitol where the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal. But the actual meeting that he held with the Tibetan spiritual leader was private, not public. I would agree that when it comes to caring about human rights, George W. Bush was light years ahead of both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, who have both been clear that such concerns will not be allowed to interfere with their engagement of tyrants whether the latter are located in Beijing or Tehran. But it is difficult to argue that the eight years of the Bush administration were a time during which human rights in China were ever a priority or even a major concern.
For strategic reasons that are certainly understandable, if regrettable, Bush had his own engagement agenda with the Chinese leadership. While, unlike Obama, we can say that Bush’s heart was in the right place, one photo op in the rotunda doesn’t change the fact that this issue hasn’t had much of an impact on American foreign policy toward China during the last few administrations.