President Bush’s Asia Trip and US-East Asia Relations



President Bush recently returned to Washington following an 8-day trip to East Asia, during which he visited Japan, South Korea, China, and Mongolia.  He also met with leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, at their annual summit in South Korea.  The President began his trip in Japan with a speech that urged Chinese leaders to meet what he called the legitimate demands of their people for freedom and openness. 

But President Bush’s suggestions have not produced much reaction from the Chinese media.  Jehangir Pocha, Beijing-based China correspondent for the Boston Globe, said the fact that the President made his key speech of the trip in Japan gave the Chinese government an easy option not to allow the media to cover it at all.  Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Pocha noted that that Mr. Bush’s implied criticism of the lack of religious freedom in China after attending a church in Beijing likewise had received no media attention.

According to Jehangir Pocha, the growing rift between Japan and its neighbors, particularly China, was one of the most important political undertones of the trip.   He said the rise of the right in Japan and the Koizumi government’s nationalistic militant movement calling for rearmament has made many people in Asia extremely uncomfortable.  But it is something Washington supports, because it would like to see Japan assume a larger share of its own security responsibilities.

Sung Joon Kim, Washington correspondent for the Seoul Broadcasting System, echoed Mr. Pocha’s concern about the close relationship between Washington and Tokyo.  Otherwise, Mr. Kim described President Bush’s trip to Korea as cordial, but uneventful.  However, Seoul disappointed Washington with its preliminary announcement that it would reduce its troop commitments to Iraq by a third.

Mongolia, a country that has firmly supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq, was Mr. Bush’s last stop on his Asian trip.  And, Jehangir Pocha noted he was enthusiastically received there.  Mr. Pocha added that, although not well publicized, Mongolia has established a “backdoor, diplomatic dialogue” with North Korea, and it has played a useful role there.  He observed that Mongolia is the “only ex-Soviet republic” to have successfully transitioned to a free-market democracy.  And, in that sense, it is a fine example to hold out to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – and even to China and North Korea – that the transition is possible in a reasonably bloodless way.

Most international journalists say that there was no significant progress on resolving the trade imbalance between the United States and China.  But President Bush and President Hu did agree to work together to stop the spread of avian flu, a central focus of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in South Korea.

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