President Bush's first trip abroad in the next phase of the "war
on terror" has been billed as a low-key, working visit, a time to
combine plain talk and praise for the leaders of Japan, South Korea,
But at a time when the Bush team is emphasizing the war on terror
above all else, US alliances in Asia are of paramount importance.
Sept. 11 has only bolstered the Bush team's goals of strengthening
US security installations in East Asia and the Pacific Rim.
The next phase of the war on terror further increases the
likelihood that Washington will turn to Japan. Southeast Asia -
reportedly home to various Al Qaeda cells - is a part of the world
where Japan still wields significant power.
Similarly, Japan's maintenance of business and diplomatic ties to
Iran can afford Tokyo a role as a conduit to Tehran, potentially
opening up a dialogue with a country White House officials say
currently "leaves them confused." But Japan's influence in both
regions has been built on its position as a financial powerhouse, a
position some say will gradually slip away if Japan does not reform
its debt-saddled economy.
Yet Bush faces some fancy footwork in the three Asian nations he
chose to visit. Beyond the common thread of antiterror, the White
House faces strains among the very different nations on his
itinerary: Rising China and fiscally beleaguered Japan are
ratcheting up a quiet but furious competition for Asian preeminence.
And the White House itself has raised the stakes here by making the
missile-building regime of North Korea a charter member of the "axis
of evil," sending a shock to South Korea.
So while Bush is praising China, Japan, and South Korea, and
wants help from each in the next phase of the war, some analysts say
the best the White House can do in Asia is work diligently to heal
divisions and build confidence.
"President Bush's ... Asia sojourn is a 'patch and caulk'
operation - no major new initiatives, but rather an effort to repair
cracks and fill gaps in the plaster of strained relationships," says
Richard Baum, an Asia specialist at UCLA. "This won't be easy,
because the gaps and strains are serious."
Bush will address the Japanese parliament today, walk up to the
barbed wire that separates South Korea from North Korea tomorrow,
and take questions from students at China's prestigious Qinghua
University on Friday.
In South Korea, Bush must resolve his brazen "axis of evil"
concept of the North, with the "sunshine policy" of President Kim
Dae Jung, which two years ago brought the sides together for the
first time in 50 years.
In China, the president will seek to gain Beijing's agreement on
antiterror measures, such as an export list for sensitive products
that could be used for high-tech weaponry. At the same time, he must
express concern at the regime's treatment of religious groups and
In Japan, Bush has embraced embattled Prime Minister Koizumi -
even while advocating reform of Japan's deficit spending, bad bank
loans, and bloated state industry. …