- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2005

President Bush arrives in Asia today on the longest foreign tour of his presidency, with stops in Japan, South Korea, China and Mongolia. The president arrives first in Kyoto, where he will deliver the main speech of his trip on the power of democracy, and its ability to improve the lives of individuals and drive the prosperity of nations. By focusing again on such a worn message, the president risks the relevance of his trip.

There is broad appreciation across Asia and the United States of the benefits and virtues of democracy. The president has already made clear his strong support of democracy around the world, though, and a speech on the abstract benefits of democracy does not address what the people and decisions-makers of Asia most want to hear from him, namely, what defines and drives the relationship between the United States and Asian countries. Democratic progress is established in much of the continent and the president must outline his vision for Asia, detail common goals and describe how those goals can be met.

The pursuit of democracy is the principal reason the administration has set out for the war in Iraq and this has become the cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy. There is impatience in Asia and beyond, though, to hear the president discuss projects and objectives that do not revolve around Iraq and counter-terror concerns. Mr. Bush should broach how the administration perceives the future of U.S.-Sino relations, and how that relationship affects America’s ties with other Asian nations. Mr. Bush should describe how engaged the administration intends to become in Asia, and should say to what degree it will work with Japan and other nations to counter Chinese influence in Asia. The administration should describe its plans to create a coordinated response plan to an Asian flu pandemic, when and if it comes, and call on Asian countries to stay focused on the North Korean nuclear threat.

During his stay in South Korea, Mr. Bush will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. There Mr. Bush should stress the importance of U.S.-Asian trade and remind the world that the United States remains ready to significantly reduce farm subsidies in a bid to re-energize global trade talks, but is waiting for Japan and the European Union to make a similar commitment.

While in China, Mr. Bush should focus on North Korea and trade. The president should huddle with the Chinese on a strategy for confronting the North Korean nuclear threat, which concerns Beijing as it concerns Washington. He should strongly urge Chinese officials to remove unofficial barriers to U.S. exports, rein in rampant copyright infringement and commit to a methodical plan for getting the Chinese currency, the renminbi, closer to its market value.

The United States has broad interests in Asia and the president has an opportunity to make his relevance felt. He must not forfeit it by delivering tedious truisms that skirt the real issues.

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