KYOTO, Japan – President Bush arrived in Japan aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, with no public appearances scheduled until Wednesday morning local time — Tuesday evening in Washington. He was to tour the Golden Temple, meet with youth leaders and sit down with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi before delivering remarks on the power of democracy.
The mood will be celebratory when Bush takes center stage in this ancient capital with Koizumi, his closest ally in Asia.
The two leaders meet Wednesday amid apparent progress toward ending the two-year-old Japanese ban on U.S. beef imports that has irritated the Americans. And the two countries just announced an agreement to realign and reduce U.S. military forces in Japan, resolving an issue that had caused concern in Tokyo.
Bush and Koizumi were expected to keep under wraps a host of trickier matters, such as a growing trade deficit with Japan, Tokyo's reluctance to reduce the kind of farm subsidies that are holding up progress on a U.S.-backed global free-trade pact, and a recent Koizumi visit to a controversial shrine that has roiled relations between Japan and neighbors South Korea and China.
Aimed primarily at China, Bush's speech will hold up such nations as Japan, Australia and South Korea as models because of their strong democratic traditions and willingness to help establish democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From Japan, Bush flies to South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun and attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Bush's overnight stay in Japan is the first leg of an eight-day Asia trip that also takes the president to China and Mongolia.
Koizumi earned Bush's steadfast loyalty by staunchly backing the invasion of Iraq and making the unpopular decision to send non-combat troops there in January 2004. That mission is expected to expire next month, but Bush indicated before the trip that he wouldn't press his friend for a decision on whether to extend it.
It is a sign of how highly regarded Koizumi is in the Bush White House that Japan is the only country the United States has specifically supported for a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council — something Tokyo badly wants.
Another indication came from Mike Green, the White House's top Asia expert, who told reporters in a pre-trip briefing that the president is "best friends" with Koizumi. "I should say `close friends,'" Green said after a pause — but the message was loud and clear.
The feeling is mutual. Though Bush is often greeted in foreign cities by large, boisterous protests, only small demonstrations were expected in Japan.
There are problems, however. The country that traditionally has been American ranchers' best customer banned U.S. beef two years ago after mad cow disease was discovered in Washington state. Some members of Congress say the United States should hit Japan back with trade sanctions.
Now, Japan's Food Safety Commission has approved a report that says the health risks from American beef are little different than from Japanese — a move that brings Japan a step closer to resuming U.S. beef imports.
U.S. officials are confident the matter is moving in the right direction, though Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said "it's not going to get worked out while we're there."
Under the troop realignment plan, Tokyo will get greater responsibility for security in the Pacific and 7,000 Marines will go from Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam over six years. The Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa would be closed and its functions moved to Camp Schwab, also on Okinawa.
About half of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan are based on Okinawa, and many locals who complain about crime and crowding are unhappy with the agreement. But Bush seemed to brush aside those concerns, saying last week that "it's hard to satisfy all the people all the time."
Ed Lincoln, senior fellow in Asia and economic studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bush is rewarding Koizumi by not being tougher on him to end agricultural subsidies and to address the anger in other parts of Asia generated when Koizumi visited a shrine in Tokyo closely associated with pre-1945 militarism.
World Trade Organization talks to create a global trade accord have been deadlocked over the demand that the United States, Europe and Japan cut farm subsidies that make it hard for farmers in developing nations to compete.