FRESNO, Calif. – President Bush is pressing for more troops and aid to help stabilize Iraq and help fight the broader war on terror during a six-nation tour of Asia and Australia.
The president says he'll also press Japan and China to refrain from manipulating exchange rates, a practice that has been blamed, in part, for the erosion of U.S. jobs. "We expect the markets to reflect the true value of currency," Bush told a group of Asian reporters ahead of his trip.
Continuing turbulence in Iraq and the nuclear standoff with North Korea will be top subjects of Bush's Asia trip. But he signaled he would also use it put more pressure on Tokyo and Beijing to let the value of the dollar rise or fall on its own.
With more than 3 million U.S. jobs gone since Bush took office in January 2001, and the presidential election just over a year away, Bush is mindful of domestic politics — and his pledges to create more work for Americans.
Bush leaves Wednesday, stopping in California to attend several political fund-raisers and to meet with the state's newly elected governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), before heading to Japan.
The trip, Bush's third trip to Asia as president and his first to Australia, has as its centerpiece the Oct. 20-21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (search) forum in Bangkok, Thailand.
He stops in Japan on Friday and Saturday, the Philippines on Saturday, Thailand through Oct. 21, Singapore and Indonesia on Oct. 22 and Australia on Oct. 22-23.
Part of the trip is to thank allies — including Japanese Prime Minister Junichuro Koizumi (search), Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search) and Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search) — for their assistance in helping to stabilize postwar Iraq.
But Bush also will be seeking more help.
His trip comes amid efforts by U.S. diplomats to win approval for a new U.N. resolution calling for greater burden-sharing in Iraq, and with polls showing his job approval falling as American concerns about Iraq and the economy rise.
Bush's talks in Tokyo are expected to focus on Japan's role in financing postwar Iraq, currency issues and North Korea's nuclear program.
Koizumi will tell Bush that Japan will contribute $1.5 billion for Iraq's reconstruction in the coming year and as much as $5 billion over the next four. That level would represent 10 percent of the reconstruction bill estimated by the World Bank — but falls short of the $13 billion Japan chipped in during the 1991 Gulf War. Bush welcomed the announcement from Tokyo, saying, "I applaud this bold step."
The Japanese leader may also hold out the promise of troops for peacekeeping efforts, but may not commit to a time frame because of upcoming elections. Koizumi dissolved parliament's powerful lower house last Friday and called for elections for its 480 seats — including his — on Nov. 9.
Administration officials said it was wrong to portray Bush's meetings with Asia-Pacific leaders as a hat-passing excursion.
Still, said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, "He will, undoubtedly, remind people that we have a donors conference coming up and that we would hope people would be generous."
Bush will maintain pressure on both Japan and China to refrain from attempting to manipulate currency markets. The Japanese are intervening and buying dollars whenever their yen threatens to gain too much strength against the American dollar, while China is pegging its currency to the dollar, keeping its currency artificially low.
U.S. manufacturers contend that both practices make it harder for them to compete against lower-cost Asian imports.
The president will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Bangkok, on the sidelines of the APEC summit.
The summit, attended by 21 world leaders, will include discussions of ways to restart trade liberalization negotiations following the recent collapse of talks in Mexico.
The president's stops in the Philippines and Indonesia — both considered the most likely terror targets in the region — will last only a few hours to cut security risks.
In Australia, Bush and Howard are expected to pledge closer ties in the war on terror. The Australian prime minister sent troops to serve with the U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In his interview with Asian reporters, Bush indicated he was concerned about the link between trade and jobs.
"Part of making sure that the job creation — momentum of the job creation is viable is to make sure — is to talk to our trading partners about fair trade," Bush said. "And there are some trade imbalances that I will be discussing."
In a letter to Bush on Tuesday, at least seven senators urged him to take action on the currency issue to stem the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. "More American jobs are in jeopardy," they wrote. "Doing nothing puts these jobs, our economy and our future at risk."