BUSAN, South Korea – Even with Asian hostility toward some U.S. policies, President Bush's trip to the region this week is not expected to turn as acrimonious as his recent visit to Latin America.
Bush departs Monday for a seven-day trip to visit enthusiastic allies Japan and Mongolia, along with China and South Korea — who may have differences with Washington but do not want them to disrupt relations. He also will attend the Asia Pacific Economic Conference summit in Busan, where 21 member states are expected to agree to support free-trade talks at the World Trade Organization.
This trip will be vastly different from Bush's visit this month to the Americas Summit in Argentina. There, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led a stadium full of protesters against a U.S.-backed free trade zone that failed to gain support of the 34 nations attending, sending Bush home early.
"All in all, it'll be certainly a much warmer welcome in Korea than in Latin America," says Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies.
That does not mean, however, that protesters will stay at home. About 18,000 people carrying anti-globalization signs peacefully demonstrated in Seoul on Sunday in advance of the APEC summit, and organizers said thousands more will be on Busan's streets during the meeting.
In Washington last week, Bush acknowledged the criticism of his policies in Asia.
"I made some difficult decisions, and I understand not everybody agrees with them," he said. "But one of the things I hope people do agree with in South Korea is that ... they've got a strong friend in the United States."
The White House also played down expectations for Bush's trip.
"He's not looking for any specific deliverables or specific outcomes," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said.
Asia has a wide array of regional groups, but there is a growing sense that the talking is not very directed — giving Washington a chance to step up and lead at the APEC summit, said Jane Skanderup, director of programs at the Pacific Forum.
"This is an opportunity for the U.S. to be very visibly engaged," she said.
Skanderup said the Americans also could counter the appearance that China's growing international profile makes it the regional heavyweight.
"The danger is that the region perceives China being more of a leader," she said. "It does make the region nervous. They want the U.S. to stay engaged as they do Japan."
Bush's first stop is Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro has been eager to cozy up to Washington, and his popularity has not suffered despite Bush's popularity woes at home and abroad. One hurdle could be U.S. hopes to get a ban on beef imports lifted two years after it was imposed because of concerns about mad cow disease.
Bush then heads to South Korea for APEC summit talks on the group's goal of establishing free trade between member economies by 2020.
He said last week he would be representing workers and business along with the United States in the talks. In a nod to globalization opponents, he said the meeting "will also help us work together to alleviate poverty."
Senior officials from the 21 participating countries agreed Sunday that their leaders must issue a "powerful statement" at the annual summit to try to save stalled global trade talks from collapse and intensify measures to fight threats such as terrorism and a possible flu pandemic.
Bush also will meet separately with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, elected in 2002 on promises he would not "kowtow" to Washington. South Korea has differed with Washington over covering costs of American troops stationed in South Korea and U.S. plans for the soldiers to become a regional force.
Heading to China, Bush is expected to deliver muted criticism about Beijing's human rights policies and call for tougher measures against copyright violations. The White House irked China before the trip when Bush met the Dalai Lama and the administration released a report labeling Beijing a serious violator of religious freedom.
"We urge the U.S. government to stop interfering in China's religious affairs," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao responded. Beijing opposes meetings with the Dalai Lama, whom Liu called "a political exile who undertakes secessionist activities abroad."
Bush's last stop is Mongolia, where he will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit. The landlocked country has reached out to the United States to avoid the sway of big neighbors China and Russia, sending 120 troops to Iraq and about 50 to Afghanistan. The visit will last just a few hours.
"They're going to love him in Mongolia ... he may want to stay three days," Cossa said.