Pacific rim leaders seize new excuse for cooperation

Bush and Putin announce 'progress' on missile talks, but no changes yet.

If the White House thought it would receive carte blanche for the US-led military program in Afghanistan, its trip to Shanghai fell short of expectations. But only slightly.

In his first trip abroad since Sept. 11, President George W. Bush received strong support for the antiterror war amid fears the simmering economic crisis in the Pacific region would deepen. "What we heard for the most part is that this is not just a battle for the future of our children," said a senior US official. "We heard, 'If you don't deal with this problem, we are all in trouble; if you won't lead, no one else will.' It gives everyone an excuse to cooperate."

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum released a lengthy statement elaborating further on recent United Nations resolutions against terror. China, at critical loggerheads with the US last spring, offered support provided it is within a UN context.

One highly placed US source said that all 21 countries, when asked privately, agreed to US overflight in the Afghan campaign if needed - though some states required prior notice.

If the White House had been criticized for unilateralism and for seeming to retreat from foreign commitments, its approach in Shanghai was a complete switch. Mr. Bush was both effusive and serious in tone with his counterparts. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin said that in weekend talks, they "made some progress" toward a new strategic framework on missile defense policy that would include limited missile defenses.

Meanwhile, US officials said privately that Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell were trying to take a greater attitude of listening. "We can no longer ignore the plight of the street in Islamabad," said a senior US official. "We have to look at the Palestine question again, a little harder, [and] why ... we now care about Indonesia in a new way."

While the APEC forum was originally intended to showcase China's rise as an economic dynamo and provide Mr. Jiang a high-profile moment as an international world leader, Jiang gamely allowed the younger Bush to share - and sometimes take over - center stage.

Jiang, for his part, showed a certain international éclat by reading both of the Shanghai final statements in English for the first time. Bush told the gathering he had decided to come to Shanghai despite an international crisis because "it was China" that was hosting the meeting.

Jiang also mentioned that in the future, Bush and he could "pick up the phone" whenever they felt the need. It was an effort to smooth over tensions from the spy plane incident last spring, a time when several White House calls to Jiang went unanswered.

What improved US-China relations greatly, some experts say, is China's effort to take a leading role on the world stage, and to cease being viewed primarily as a developing country with a troubled history of xenophobia and anti-Western reactions. China's agreement to work with the US on the antiterror front is an example.

"We are all in for a complicated learning experience in the coming years," says James Spence, a professor of Chinese history at Yale, speaking of the war against terror. "China has said it will be part of that learning experience. I think that is a very interesting new development."

One striking example came during a press conference Saturday, when a Taiwanese reporter asked a question of Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, referring to China as "Communist China." "This is Shanghai, a big city on Chinese soil," retorted Minister Tang. "How dare you call us 'Communist China.' Communist China has become history. Such a term no longer exists."

Earlier reports that the US was preparing to lift sanctions on China and sell parts for Blackhawk helicopters, used for mountain fighting where rebel Muslims rebels live, were quashed this weekend by the White House. Such sales would involve the lifting of sanctions placed on China during the Tiananmen massacres, and White House sources said that human rights groups had complained bitterly, and had been heard.

Some anticipation in Shanghai centered around the stances Malaysia and Indonesia, APEC's two Muslim-majority countries, would take on the war. Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, with 10,000 Muslims protesting in the streets of Jakarta this week, was not able to work out a meeting with Bush. But in a walk to one meeting, Megawati told the president that "foreigners would be safe" in Jakarta, sources say.

Chris Johnson contributed to this report from Shanghai.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.