Rallying Asia


Today President Bush starts a week-long swing through Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. He’ll be giving thanks for help in Iraq and in the war on terror, and deploying carrots and sticks for more of the same. Bush will meet only with leaders and so he won’t have to confront the fact that the people of most of these countries aren’t at all happy with U.S. policy.

The trip, built around a drop-in at the three-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Bangkok, is designed, as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice put it in a pre-trip briefing, “to stress the crucial importance of our longstanding alliances in the region, to herald the transitions to democracy that are enhancing our partnerships, to express his gratitude to these nations for their cooperation and support in the global war on terror, and to work to strengthen the region’s commitment to free and fair trade that benefits all.”

In Tokyo on Friday Bush meets with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is expected to offer $1.5 billion toward the reconstruction of Iraq; then he stops by the Phillipines on Saturday to meet with President Gloria Arroyo and to thank her for her country’s contribution of soldiers, police and medical workers in Iraq.

After the APEC meeting, where he’ll talk trade and security and have one-on-ones with the leaders of China, South Korea and, for some reason, Mexico, Bush heads to Singapore, and then to Bali, to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed over 200 people in a popular dance club. In Bali, Bush will meet with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, as well as leaders from the two largest moderate Muslim organizations in the country in an attempt to turn a new leaf with the world’s most-populous Muslim nation.

But Bush has no plans to stop by the meetin of Organization of the Islamic Conference’s meeting in Malaysia this week. Which may be a missed opportunity, given the recent study found that anger towards America has inreased massively in the Muslim world. It’s unlikely that a brief meeting with select moderates in Indonesia will do much to reverse this.

The president will end his trip in Australia on the 22nd and 23rd, where he will meet with Prime Minister John Howard, a fairly solid Bush ally, and address the nation’s parliament.

While the president is beating the war drum throughout the far East, each of the leaders he is visiting have their own agendas. With Japanese president Koizumi gearing up for November elections, which he is expected to win, Koizumi will have to be cautious about committing to sending troops to Iraq, as the Japanese public doesn’t generally support the war. As the Asia Times reports, some analysts believe that Koizumi is hoping to trade his support in Iraq for an exchange rate intervention by the U.S. Federal Reserve, to help stabilize Japan’s ailing currency. While Koizumi buddies up with Bush, Phillipine president Arroyo is expected to ask the U.S. president for military aid in fighting her domestic militant groups.

Although these foreign leaders might be warm to Bush’s visit, the general public is less than welcoming. In Indonesia and the Phillipines, militant groups have issued threats against Bush — and needless to say the president’s entourage will be heavily protected. This tour seems a great opportunity for the kind of public diplomacy recently called for to mend America’s reputation in the world. But given that Bush’s agenda seems to be to thank those who are “with us,” and sound warnings to, or simply ignore, those who are “against us,” the Asia jaunt holds little promise for increased understanding.