US President George W. Bush has scheduled a whirlwind visit of Southeast Asia. The Philippines is getting the lions share of his time an estimated eight hours and three hours each for the other countries. (The Philippine Post in Washington has informed the DFA that the visits to the other countries have not been finalized and may not take place at all.)
The American trauma over the Vietnam war is largely healed and the American President will find Southeast Asia, symbolized by ASEAN, essentially a haven of peace, stability and economic progress.
From a US strategic viewpoint, there is more cause for worry in Northeast Asia, where the hermit regime in North Korea is brandishing nuclear weapons, and in South Asia, where India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed are locked in ominous skirmishes over Kashmir.
Southeast Asia, however, remains an important focus of the US-led coalition against international terrorism. The explosions in Bali, Indonesia, which killed 200 people, mostly foreign tourists, was after all the most serious incident occurring after the September 11, 2001 bombings of American icons such as the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Bush will note to his satisfaction that at the initiative of the Philippines, a trilateral agreement on combating terrorism has been signed among Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Thailand and Cambodia have since acceded to the agreement. Australia too has concluded bilateral agreements with all these countries for fighting international terrorism.
Thailand has captured Hambali, the notorious Indonesian terrorist, and turned him over to US government agencies.