U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in Japan on Tuesday, starting a week-long Asia trip aimed at bolstering allied unity on North Korea, pushing for freer trade and urging joint action against the bird flu threat.
Senior aides played down expectations for any major breakthroughs on simmering U.S. trade disputes with Japan and China and portrayed Bush's sessions as important to maintaining strong relations with important allies.
"This is not a trip where the president has to come with a deliverable or initiative. We've got a range of issues. These relations are pretty broad, pretty deep," said U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
After visiting Argentina, Brazil and Panama earlier this month, Bush now will hold talks in Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia.
The trip allows Bush to escape from the political winds of Washington, where Democrats have been accusing him of manipulating intelligence used to justify the Iraq war. It gives him a chance to take the world stage at a time when Americans have doubts about his handling of the war and have saddled him with the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency.
Bush is to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday and give a speech extolling the virtues of freedom, including some areas where Washington feels China falls short, such as respect for freedom of religion and speech, and protection of intellectual property rights.
Then he travels to Pusan, South Korea to attend the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
He then goes on to Beijing for perhaps the most difficult meetings of the trip, with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and will stop briefly in Ulan Bator, capital of Iraq war ally Mongolia, before returning to Washington next Monday.
Hadley said Bush would use his meetings to underscore the need for unity in insisting North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons programme before it can benefit from international aid, including help in building an electricity-producing light water reactor.
The next round of six-party negotiations involving North Korea and the United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia is to resume in December.
"We want to see tangible results in the dismantling of a programme, and at the appropriate time we'll discuss the light water reactor," Bush told reporters last week, adding that he would remind the allies "that we will stick together and hopefully achieve this noble goal".
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, speaking in Pusan, said: "All sides need to cooperate flexibly in order to achieve the shared goal of the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula." The United States wants Japan to lift a ban on U.S. beef imposed over mad cow fears and, faced with a trade deficit with China projected to hit $200 billion this year, wants China to liberalise its yuan currency and crack down on counterfeiting of American movies and computer programs.
Hadley cautioned against expecting breakthroughs on these issues. But he said Bush would extol the benefits of free trade and specifically speak of the need to make progress in the Doha round of world trade talks in which Washington has offered to eliminate agricultural subsidies if other nations will as well.
At the APEC summit, Bush will push his free trade agenda and hopes for unified action in combating bird flu. The virus has yet to appear in the United States but Bush has proposed a $7.1 billion plan to prepare for it. "Everyone is going to have to work together to identify, contain and respond to an outbreak," Bush said last week.
Bush's talks with Hu in Beijing come at a time when some in the United States wonder if economically surging China will grow to become a threat. U.S. officials do not see it that way but hope to steer Beijing into economic and political reforms, reports Reuetrs. I.L.