The visit is the latest stage in Bush's eight-day tour of Asia, centred on the summit of APEC leaders which ended on Saturday in South Korea.

 

Earlier on the tour, Bush called on China's leaders to grant their people greater political and religious freedoms.

 

"We encourage China to continue down the road of reform and openness because the freer China is at home, the greater the welcome it will receive abroad," he said on Wednesday.

 

He went on to hail Taiwan as a model democracy for China to follow - a comparison that is unlikely to have gone down well with his hosts in Beijing.

 

China regards the island as a breakaway province of the Chinese mainland.

 

Boeing order

 

Another issue expected to be in the focus is China's massive trade surplus with the United States.

 

In a move apparently aimed at tempering American pressure on the issue, officials announced shortly before Bush's arrival that China had agreed to buy 70 Boeing 737 jets.

 

President Bush and his wife
Laura land at Beijing Airport

The deal is reportedly worth about $5 billion before discounts, although the exact sum involved in unclear.

 

That could help tame China's spiralling trade surplus with the US, expected to reach record levels above $200 billion for the year.

 

However, differences between the two sides over human rights and religious freedoms are expected to prove the most difficult to bridge.

 

On Sunday, Bush and his wife, Laura, are expected to attend a church service in Beijing, before meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders.

 

Religious freedoms

 

White House officials say they will be pressing the Chinese authorities to give widespread domestic media coverage to the president's visit.

 

Mike Green, Bush's Senior Director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council said the expectation was that the Chinese people should have "an opportunity to hear everything the president has to say on US-China relations".

 

Speaking to reporters on board Air Force One, Green said that openness extended to religious freedoms as well.

 

"It's important that the world and the Chinese people see that an expression of faith is a good thing for a healthy and mature society," he said.