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Asia: U.S. President Begins Trip To Win Support On Trade, Combating Flu, Security

  • Robert McMahon --> U.S. President George W. Bush (file photo) (CTK) U.S. President George W. Bush has arrived in Japan, the first stop on an eight-day trip to East Asia that is likely to be dominated by trade and security issues. In addition to Japan, Bush will meet leaders in South Korea, China, and Mongolia and attend a meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. APEC leaders are expected to express support for free-trade talks and promote cooperation on combating avian flu. Bush will start his trip with a speech tomorrow that is expected to link democratic reforms with prosperity.

Washington, 15 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bush has arrived in Asia with a crowded agenda, including concerns over free trade, a possible flu pandemic, and North Korea's nuclear program.

The main scheduled event on the trip is the APEC summit in Busan, South Korea, on 18-19 November. The 21 member states are expected to agree to support free-trade talks at the World Trade Organization's (WTO) ministerial meeting in December.

That would contrast with Bush's recent visit to the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, which was marred by demonstrations and a failure to gain support for talks on a free-trade zone.

The APEC meeting is also expected to include an agreement to put an early-warning system in place in case of outbreaks of bird flu, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Cooperation on containing bird flu is one of the Bush administration's key goals of the trip, said Elizabeth Economy, who directs Asia studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

"I think there's a sense that [administration officials] want to ensure that a country like China or Vietnam -- where the issue of transparency and accountability isn't sort of 100 percent guaranteed -- that some sort of subtle pressure and encouragement are brought to bear on these countries and that they understand the enormity of their actions and the implications of their actions for the rest of Asia and the rest of the world," Economy said.

Countering Threats

APEC leaders will also discuss work to protect the region from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Leaders of the states involved in negotiating the denuclearization of North Korea -- South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States -- will attend the meeting, but U.S. officials have suggested they do not expect new initiatives on the six-party talks.

Bush starts his trip by reaffirming the U.S. alliance with Japan, which is the second-largest donor after the United States to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Japan is also a member of the UN Security Council and chairs the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is considering a tougher response to Iran's nuclear program.

Bush arrived in the western city of Osaka today, and he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the nearby ancient capital city of Kyoto tomorrow. Bush is expected to deliver a speech in Kyoto that links democratic and social reforms with Asia's long-term economic success.

Talks With China

The president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Bush will take that message personally to Chinese President Hu Jintao on 19-20 November.

"President Bush will also share his view that as President Hu pursues his vision of peaceful development, he will find that greater individual freedom to worship, to speak, and to pursue prosperity will strengthen his country," Hadley said. "It is an ambitious vision for China that the president hopes the Chinese will embrace."

Just days before the trip, Bush met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The Bush administration recently redesignated China as a "country of concern" for violations of religious freedom.

But some experts said the Bush administration needs to take further steps to press for human rights reforms in China. A specialist on China at the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation, John Tkacik, said China is unlikely to reform politically unless prodded more insistently by Washington.

"The idea that somehow China is going to democratize on its own and that the Chinese Communist Party will eventually see the error of its ways and move to democracy the way the Mongolian Communist Party did in 1990 is misguided," Tkacik said. "The Chinese Communist Party has based its entire legitimacy on ideology of nationalism, not one of socialism or communism."

In Beijing, Bush and Hu will also discuss measures to increase China's imports from the United States and the need to protect international intellectual property rights. China has an enormous trade surplus with the United States, and U.S. firms have accused China of rampant piracy of intellectual property.

Tokyo-Beijing Relations

Bush's trip also provides an opportunity to try to ease worsening relations between the region's two powers, China and Japan. Two former Asian experts in the U.S. National Security Council -- Jeffrey Bader and Matthew Goodman -- wrote an article in the "Financial Times" of 14 November urging the administration to facilitate Sino-Japanese reconciliation.

Goodman told RFE/RL that the Beijing-Tokyo relationship has implications for the North Korea talks and other vital U.S. interests.

"The relationship between Japan and China, in particular, has deteriorated pretty seriously in the last year, and that is a matter of urgent concern to the United States if those relations were to get worse -- and [it's a concern] even if they don't, because there are all these other regional challenges which the two should be working cooperatively to address," Goodman said.

Relations between Japan and China sharply worsened earlier this year after Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited a shrine where 14 war criminals from World War II are buried.