Bush tours a more secure Asia
His trip, which ends at the Olympics, is intended to showcase achievements in the region.
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But the president's attendance in Beijing will also be the culmination of a week-long trip to South Korea, Thailand, and China that the White House envisions as the showcasing of a successfully managed Asia policy that Mr. Bush will hand off to the next president. Though perhaps less flashy than the Olympics' parade of nations, the items on Bush's agenda – North Korea's nuclear program, US-South Korea relations, democracy's advance in East Asia, and China's rise as a world power – are all issues the White House sees as historic in their own right.
Relations with Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and China "have never been stronger" because of "a lot of hard work" by his administration, Bush told journalists from the countries he will visit in interviews last week.
After coming into office with a confrontational stance toward a rising China and open belligerence toward North Korea, the Bush administration has developed an Asia policy that has lowered the temperature of some of the world's toughest security threats, experts in the region say. They point to the Korean Peninsula, the China-Taiwan issue, and even the India-Pakistan conflict.
But they also say that prickly issues remain – some of which Bush will confront on his trip. Some experts contend that a looming issue of America's gradual eclipse by a roaring Asia has been exacerbated by America's poor domestic performance over the Bush years.
"On a superficial level, the Bush administration leaves the US on better terms in Asia than in other regions," says Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "But at a deeper level, there's been a hollowing out of our capabilities and a deteriorating of our strengths that will require full attention at home. That inward focus, he adds, "will reduce our attraction in such a dynamic region as Asia."
Bush will delve into America's broad relations with Asia in a speech he is set to deliver in Thailand on Thursday. But before that he will deal with the rough patch US-Korea relations have hit over trade issues and, most recently, over the US stance on islands claimed by both South Korea and Japan. In Thailand, he'll meet with political refugees from Burma (Myanmar), while first lady Laura Bush will travel to refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border.
In China, Bush will pursue with President Hu Jintao the human rights and religious freedom themes that he took up with Chinese dissidents prior to his departure from Washington. Last week, China reacted sharply to Bush's meeting with the five dissidents and his assurance to them that he would "carry the message of freedom" to Beijing.