A summit planned for years to be China's economic "coming out party" has turned into a de facto global antiterrorism meeting, as President Bush arrived here last night on his first trip abroad since Sept. 11.
The meeting of 21 regional leaders was to be a showcase of the impressive high-tech skyline of China's financial capital and highlight this country's ability to host glittering international events. Beijing is still celebrating its successful bid to host the 2008 Olympics and World Trade Organization (WTO) accession, set for November.
Instead, though Chinese officials have valiantly tried to keep a focus on regional economic cooperation, the event has morphed into a war party on wheels for the media, for foreign ministers, and for the heads of state with whom Mr. Bush will meet privately in the coming days, including Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
US officials see the meeting as a chance to secure as much military and security, as economic, cooperation. The hotel elevators where the president is staying downtown are full of gold-braided uniforms and national-security badges.
Moreover, in set-up meetings yesterday with Secretary of State Colin Powell and his counterparts, questions and answers reportedly dealt with the US-led bombing in Afghanistan.
"There was a hope that the military campaign would be ended quickly, on a note of success, but I cannot say concerns were expressed, just the hope that it would achieve its purpose soon," Mr. Powell told a news conference yesterday.
The foreign minister of Malaysia, a key Muslim ally that has seen rioting on the streets, reportedly gave Powell assurances of his country's military cooperation and said Malaysia supported action against terrorism, but wanted the "roots of terrorism" to be a subject of more investigation.
Not that a focus on the economy is off the charts entirely. As delegates meet, and as even the China People's Daily yesterday noted, the regional economy and the war on terror are not separate issues. The 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) states make up 41 percent of the world's population, and account for 47 percent of global gross domestic product. Yet the main Asian economies - Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea - despite a boost in government spending and interest-rate cuts - are in a downward motion. (China, with its low labor costs and massive investment, alone is defying the economic gravitational forces, with a 7 percent growth rate.) Declining consumer confidence and spending in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have also taken a toll in the Pacific rim.
Some national delegates to the Shanghai meeting argue that the "war on terror" and the political cooperation it requires will itself create momentum to do the kind of economic trade liberalization that the APEC forum was originally set up, in 1993, to do. "If terrorism dictates the rules people abide by, trade will be hindered," says Andre Lemay, a spokesman from the Canadian ministry of foreign affairs. "Putting terrorism ahead of economics actually makes [things] easier. Once you have a consensus to move in a direction, whether it is [defeating terror] or liberalizing trade, then you have a momentum that builds."
Bush and Chinese President Jiang, a former mayor of Shanghai who is given credit for this city's economic turnaround and physical luster, meet for the first time today, and are expected to overcome a previously tense and rocky relationship. China, the heavyweight power of Asia, has taken a cautious but supportive stance on the US war, and in recent days officials have stated the war is a chance for new levels of cooperation.
Beijing has cracked down in recent weeks on its Uigher Muslim population in the far West region of Xinjiang, which shares a 30-mile border with Afghanistan. US and Chinese officials reportedly are working out a deal to lift US sanctions on parts for Blackhawk helicopters, purchased by China in the 1980s. The choppers are considered useful for the kind of close-to-the-ground mountain operations sought by the Army here.
China-watchers also expect that Jiang will try to use a newfound cooperative spirit to achieve concessions on Taiwan. China views Taiwan as part of its territory, and Jiang reportedly sees unification with the island as the one failure of his tenure, due to end next October. Chinese officials have doubtless taken note of the sudden shift between India and Pakistan, with the US becoming a new partner with the regime of Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at India's expense. They would like a similar realignment, at Taiwan's expense.
Jiang is expected to ask the US for a more-robust commitment to the one-China principle and to reduce the quantity and quality of weapons sales to Taiwan. This spring, citing a buildup of Chinese rockets on the Fujian coastline across from Taiwan, the Bush administration approved the largest-ever sale to Taiwan, including four destroyers. The sale followed a tense 12-day standoff between the US and China, which detained the crew of an EP-3e surveillance plane after it collided with a Chinese fighter jet. Bush and Jiang did not phone each other during the crisis.
Yet since last summer, the US-China tone has been changing. Bush and Jiang have talked twice, and Jiang expressed sorrow over the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Yesterday, the People's Daily ran an editorial stating that "the Shanghai summit is an ideal stage for China to improve her international image and broaden her international influence."
Christopher Johnson in Shanghai contributed to this report.