JAKARTA, Indonesia – President Bush paid tribute to new symbols of capitalism in this struggling communist country Monday and offered encouragement for Vietnam's battle against bird flu and other public health challenges.
The president was quickly touring this city, once known as Saigon, before flying to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, where thousands angrily protested America's policy in the Middle East and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House said it was confident about security precautions for Bush's visit despite police warnings of an increased threat of attack by Al Qaeda-linked groups.
The president was to spend just six hours in Indonesia, most of it at Bogor Palace, a presidential retreat outside the capital of Jakarta and far from the scene of protests where Bush was denounced as a "war criminal' and "terrorist."
While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, Bush is highly unpopular in Indonesia where security forces were probing unconfirmed reports that a homicide bomber was planning to attack during Bush's visit on Monday. Bogor Police Chief Col. Sukrawardi Dahlan said authorities were investigating a report that a man wearing a homicide vest would infiltrate the protests.
Initially, the White House thought Bush would have to fly to Indonesia on a backup Air Force One. There was a problem with a tire upon landing in Ho Chi Minh City, said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. But a replacement tire was found, and the president is scheduled to fly his regular Boeing 747 to Indonesia.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Bush visited the Vietnam stock exchange, where trading began in 2000 and expanded to Hanoi last year. The exchange initially listed two companies and two bonds. Now, there is trading in 56 stocks and funds on the combined exchanges with total capitalization of $3.5 billion.
The president, wielding a red-handled mallet, struck a gong to open the day's trading. Bush hit it three times, shook hands with traders on the floor and met with a group of American and Vietnamese business leaders.
"I am very interested in hearing what the opportunities are like and the obstacles you face," the president told them. "Perhaps the United States can help foster the market economy that is growing here."
"When I read about the recent economic history of Vietnam," he said, "I am amazed at the size of the growth and the fact that people are beginning to realize dreams." Last year, Vietnam's economy grew by a robust 8.4 percent.
He also was visiting the Pasteur Institute for a briefing on its research on HIV/AIDs and other public health problems.
Bush's trip to Asia was his first appearance on the world stage since his Republican Party lost control of Congress and was rebuked for the unpopular war in Iraq.
To Bush's dismay, he was unable to deliver a promised agreement on normal trade relations with Vietnam. It was snarled in Congress but the administration expressed confidence it eventually would be approved.
Vietnam's economy is booming, the fastest growing in Asia, and the country is the world's second-largest exporter of rice. But the benefits have not reached most people. The per capita income is less than $700 a year.
In a city usually teeming with motorcycle traffic, streets were cleared for Bush's motorcade. As he rode by, people waved, laughed and cheered. It was a contrast to the subdued reaction of residents in Hanoi, where Bush participated in the summit and conferred with the leaders of China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
Bush was in Hanoi to attend the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
The White House supported the summit's closing statement prodding North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks and urging nations to keep the pressure on by enforcing U.N. Security Council sanctions.
But the administration was at a loss to explain why the statement was simply read as part of the chairman's wrap-up statement, and not issued as a written document. Another oddity was that the section about North Vietnam was not translated into English when the statement was read.
U.S. officials later said that the reason the North Korea statement was delivered orally, rather than written, was because China did not want to sign a document with Taiwan. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway colony and did not want to put it on equal footing, the U.S. officials said.
At the summit, Bush met separately with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss strategy for yet-to-be-scheduled talks with North Korea. The administration sent U.S. envoy Christopher Hill to Beijing for further consultations.
In their public remarks, Bush and Putin celebrated a U.S.-Russia agreement for Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization. Bush said Russia's admission to the group was "good for the United States and good for Russia."
With Putin and Hu, Bush also pressed for a U.N. Security Council resolution to pressure Iran to abandon nuclear weapons. It was unclear whether Bush made any headway in persuading China and Russia to drop their reluctance to go along.
Describing Bush's discussions with Putin, White House press secretary Tony Snow said the leaders did not discuss specifics "but they understand that you need a strong resolution that will send the Iranians the clear message that we're not only united, but serious, and at the same time are going to offer them the opportunity to have civil nuclear power, which is of some importance to the Iranian people."