Bush says Asians back U.S. in war

Aides seek group's support of airstrikes

October 20, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SHANGHAI, China - President Bush said here yesterday that "support is near unanimous" among Pacific Rim nations for both the military strikes in Afghanistan and the broader war he has declared against terrorism.

But to cement the anti-terror coalition, he spent his first day in China playing down a series of contentious issues with his hosts and with the president of South Korea.

At a news conference yesterday with President Jiang Zemin of China, Bush made no mention of his missile defense plans, which China has opposed, and alluded only briefly to differences with Beijing over Taiwan, China's military buildup and its treatment of dissidents.

The Chinese, perhaps wary of how the first meeting with a new American president would play out, did not broadcast the news conference live. When excerpts finally ran on local television last night, they were edited to remove any hint of criticism of Chinese policy.

The meetings with Jiang, a prelude to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that begins today, included formal talks yesterday and lunch at a Communist Party guest house on the edge of Shanghai.

Officials described Bush's and Jiang's behavior during the closed sessions as gracious but not especially warm. It was not clear whether China's promise to share intelligence about terrorist groups would prove of much value.

"This wasn't like the first meeting with Putin," one senior official said yesterday evening, referring to Bush's comment that he had looked into Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's eyes when they first met during the summer and seen a man he could trust. "It was quite scripted."

Bush's declaration that Asian countries had overwhelmingly endorsed his strategy came as his aides tried to toughen language in a statement on terrorism to be issued today by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the loose group of 21 nations meeting here. The group is not known for taking bold stances, except on trade.

The statement, as drafted, condemns terrorism but makes no mention of the U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan, at the insistence of Muslim nations, including Indonesia and Malaysia, which have backed Bush's declared campaign on terrorism but not the military action against Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.

Yesterday, Jiang ignored a reporter's question about whether China endorses the Afghanistan operation. Still, administration officials insist that the document gives them the support they need.

Later in the afternoon, meeting South Korea's president, Kim Dae Jung, Bush publicly voiced support for the Nobel Peace laureate's "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with North Korea. Bush's refusal to do so at a first meeting six months ago at the White House opened a rift between the United States and South Korea.

It also revealed the division within the administration between those who wanted a harder line on Communist North Korea and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who argued for a policy of engagement similar to the one pursued by President Clinton.

After an administration review of Korea policy, Powell won the argument. Bush declared yesterday that "my administration wishes to begin a dialogue with the government of Kim Jong Il," the secretive North Korean leader, and noted that Kim has not responded.

But while other leaders here had a variety of agendas - Putin answered questions about the Russian economy and many others worried about strategies to restore global economic growth - Bush would not be diverted from his focus on terrorism.

"I've come to Shanghai because China and other Asia Pacific nations are important partners in the global coalition against terror," he said.

Bush's words seemed to be a response to those Republicans who worried he should not be out of Washington at a time of war and anthrax attacks.

This was his first trip abroad since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. Yesterday, one of his senior advisers, Karen Hughes, conceded that days ago the White House revisited the question of whether to come here at all.

"The president concluded that it was very important that he come to make the case" for joining the counter-terrorism coalition, she said.

Bush got a good deal of what he wanted. Kim of South Korea praised him effusively for "his calm composure and his very wise decisions in bringing together, first of all, the people of America so that they will be able to effectively fight this war against terrorism."

Kim promised to give the counter-terrorism effort South Korea's full support, with his aides noting that the biggest contribution South Korea could make would be to nudge North Korea into reforms that would get it off the State Department's list of nations that support terrorism.

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