- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

BOAO, CHINA (AP) - Former President George W. Bush cracked jokes about how he scoops up after his dog on neighborhood walks and then turned to more serious subjects like terrorism and the financial crisis Saturday during his first overseas trip since leaving office.

Bush _ in China for the Boao Forum _ also shared some of his most unusual moments with leaders, including the time he listened to former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sing “Hound Dog” while visiting Graceland mansion, home to the late Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee.

The stories drew laughter and applause from the audience in a huge banquet hall at the forum, an annual conference where executives hobnob with global leaders at a resort on China’s southern tropical island province of Hainan. Security was tight and there were no protests.

Bush said after he left the White House and moved into his new home in Dallas, Texas, he decided to take his Scottish terrier Barney for a walk. To be a good neighbor, he said he carried a plastic bag so he could clean up his dog’s droppings. The task seemed ironic to him, he said.

“I was picking up what I had been dodging for eight years,” Bush said.

The former president said after he left the presidency in January, he plopped down on the couch and said, “Free at last.”

But his wife, Laura, piped in: “You’re free to do the dishes,” he said.

After a few other jokes, Bush shifted to more serious topics. Although this was his first trip overseas since leaving office, it was his second speech in a foreign country. Last month, Bush spoke in Calgary, Canada.

On Saturday, he said he would not criticize Barack Obama and wished his successor all the best.

“He was not my first choice, but now that this election was made, it speaks volumes about the United States of America,” Bush said.

He recalled that when the financial crisis began hitting America, he accused Wall Street of getting drunk and giving the country a hangover. Bush said he hoped a more sober economic order would emerge from the global slump.

“Maybe the next time around, there won’t be enough booze,” he said.

The crisis gives the world an opportunity to modernize financial systems, craft smarter regulations for complex financial instruments, create better banking standards and enact more efficient warning systems, Bush said.

“Our economy has been hit hard, but we have the resources and resilience to recover,” he added.

Bush also urged global leaders to continue the struggle against terrorism and to support the young democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he said the economic center of the world was shifting to Asia, which accounts for 55 percent of the global economy. China will continue to be of high importance to the U.S., he said.

“It’s just mind boggling how this country has changed,” he added.

During past visits to China, Bush urged Chinese leaders to expand religious freedom in the country. He mentioned the issue again Saturday in a low-key, oblique way.

“People who are allowed to worship freely in society,” he said, “are people who are going to be peaceful citizens.”

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