Bush's tough talk in the land of reticence
Today the US president heads to South Korea, within earshot of the 'axis of evil,' as all Asia listens.
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The Chinese, moreover, once Clinton began to engage China, loved the former president's voluminous verbiage. Clinton's famed "therapeutic," we-can-work-this-out style of speaking, usually delivered in long paragraphs, allowed Beijing to read its own interpretation into whatever Clinton seemed to say, experts say. The Clinton administration policy of engagement with China also seemed to delink human rights with economic policies. In his second term, Clinton rarely went on a soap box for political or religious prisoners.Skip to next paragraph
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It is yet to be heard what Bush's message in China will be. On Friday, the president will give a speech at Qinghua University and take questions from students. But by no means do Chinese want to hear Bush say something like "Taiwan is a country," or "Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian." They would prefer he support Beijing's "one China principle" clearly.
In Korea today, Bush will speak at the demilitarized zone, only 30 miles from Seoul, where, at the so-called "last outpost of the cold war," 1.1 million North Korean troops are deployed in forward positions. Bush has called the DMZ "the most dangerous place on earth."
The US leader will also make comments at an old train station that used to be a primary link in the peninsula, which was separated by a war half a century ago.
Some analysts here feel the words Bush uses could determine whether South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with his reclusive counterpart, Kim Jong Il - will remain viable. If Bush slams North Korea hard, it could trigger an inflamed reaction from Pyongyang, which could permanently disable the already tenuous policy.
Just two days ago, Kim Jong Il celebrated his 60th birthday - considered a major event in a Korean male's life. (New flags are fluttering along the DMZ, and North Korean officials unveiled a huge inscription of Kim's name, with letters 112 feet high, on one side of Korea's venerable Mt. Kumkang.)
To be attacked verbally in the days after the birthday could dash any hope of Kim Jong Il's visiting the South - and could nullify the Nobel prize-winning peace efforts of South's Korea's Kim, who will leave office in a year.
"We fail to see where the 'axis of evil' speech came from," says Jung-Hoon Lee, an international relations professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.
"For Bush, this is about an international war against terror," the professor says. "But most Koreans aren't looking at a large picture, we are a little parochial. What Bush ought to tell us is about the large picture, and why this is good for South Korea."
In recent days, North Korea's strictly controlled state media has kept up a steady propaganda barrage against the US leader, calling him the head of an "empire of evil" and "the most bellicose and heinous" US president ever.
Material from the wire services was used in this report.