BEIJING: He came and he saw, but President Bush did not conquer much new turf on his six-day swing through Asia. Reflecting a different strategy from the style of the Clinton White House, however, the Bush administration didn’t set out to produce breakthroughs, new agreements or dramatic “deliverables” during summits in China, South Korea and Japan, according to a senior administration official.
Prospects for any major development on the three-nation tour also were limited by the fact that two of the leaders Bush visited were lame ducks and the third might have problems holding on to power. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is set to step down next year. South Korea is holding elections in December to replace its president, Kim Dae Jung, who cannot run again. And in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s popularity has plummeted.
Bush’s trip was more like “a victory of low expectations,” concluded Bates Gill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. In Beijing, the president did not get an agreement on limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - his top priority with China and a central tenet of his foreign policy worldwide.
But Bush did expand and deepen a key relationship, most notably by establishing contact with the next generation of political leadership in China and with the country’s youth. The most tangible of his achievements might prove to be arranging a visit to the US by Hu Jintao, China’s vice president and the heir apparent to Jiang.
So, although the administration’s top goal remains elusive, there was some balance in the outcome of the China stop. In Seoul, the one-time momentum behind Nobel peace prize laureate Kim’s “sunshine policy,” an effort to reach out to North Korea and eventually reunify the Korean peninsula, appears to have dissipated, in part because of Bush’s tough talk on North Korea. Since his State of the Union address, Bush repeatedly has called the regime in Pyongyang one of three in an “axis of evil.”
Bush did express his willingness to engage in dialogue with the North. But while the Clinton administration was negotiating a deal under which the North would end its production and distribution of ballistic missiles, Bush added the issue of North Korean troop withdrawal.
“The president showed that muscular rhetoric, speaking in morally clear tones, is not incompatible with reaching out to the North Korean regime,” the senior administration official said. The reaction in both halves of the divided peninsula did not bode well for any imminent development, however.
North Korea lashed out at Bush in a Foreign Ministry statement Friday that dismissed him as a “politically backward child.” The official KCNA news agency on Saturday described the presidential visit as “a war junket to finally examine the preparations for a war on the spot.” It called Bush’s comments about the North “the gangsterlike logic of a typical rogue and a kingpin of terrorism.”
The media in the South, for its part, painted a gloomy picture. Some journalists in South Korea actually saw the visit as a setback. “Bush may have no preconditions for dialogue with North Korea, but he doesn’t sound like a man trying seriously to lure an adversary to the negotiating table,” said the editor of the English-language Joong Ang Ilbo in a stinging column. “That’s it. Rest in peace, sunshine policy. Kim Dae Jung is finally a sure-enough lame duck,” the column went on. The party now leading the polls in advance of December elections has been deeply critical of the sunshine policy.—Dawn/LAT-WP News Service (c) Los Angeles Times.
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