Bush's Asia Trip Meets Low Expectations

President Bush rides with members of the Chinese Olympic cycling team on the Laoshan Olympic Mountain Bike Course in Beijing. Bush as traveler, C1.
President Bush rides with members of the Chinese Olympic cycling team on the Laoshan Olympic Mountain Bike Course in Beijing. Bush as traveler, C1. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Peter Baker and Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 21, 2005

BEIJING, Nov. 20 -- When President Bush was flying toward Asia a week ago, his national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, predicted to reporters in the back of the plane that the four-nation trip would yield no "headline breakthroughs." He turned out to be right.

As Bush wrapped up his stay in Beijing on Sunday and prepared to head home Monday after a brief stop in Mongolia, the trip has produced no real breakthroughs of any sort. On a wide variety of issues, from trade to security to human rights, Bush won no concrete agreements from any of his summit partners.

White House officials said that did not mean the trip was unsuccessful, because they never expected to bring home any major agreements in the first place. Such trips, they said, reflect a more mature diplomacy aimed at building relationships and achieving steady progress that will produce gains at some later date. Yet at the same time, it means that a politically weakened Bush returns home without anything high-profile to brag about when he could use some good news.

"I know that it's not like a deliverable or big breakthrough, but when breakthroughs are made you'll be able to point back" at the trip as paving the way, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said. "Some of these things aren't things that happen with the snap of a finger. What these summits do provide is an opportunity to move forward."

Bush wanted Japan to drop its two-year ban on U.S. beef imports, but although Japan seems likely to do so soon, it did not declare its readiness while the president was in town. Bush wanted to propel free trade during an economic summit in South Korea, but the general statement drafted by Pacific Rim leaders drops no tariffs and merely sets the stage for further talks.

In another setback, South Korea's cabinet on Monday backed a proposal to withdraw one-third of the country's 3,200 troops from Iraq.

In China, Bush's meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao produced little progress toward resolving long-standing differences. Hu pledged "to gradually achieve balanced trade between China and the United States" and to "unswervingly press ahead" with plans to allow the Chinese currency to float more freely. But he offered no plan for how he would achieve either goal.

Hu also vowed "to step up" efforts to combat Chinese piracy of American movies and software. Wen insisted at length that Beijing was already waging a vigorous campaign to enforce intellectual property rights. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there was "very important movement" that indicated the Chinese were "taking the issue . . . seriously."

But neither Rice nor other U.S. officials could point to any specific evidence of that. The Bush administration recently gave Beijing a list of 25 factories manufacturing pirated DVDs in China, and there has been no word on whether the Chinese have shut down any of them.

On human rights, Bush's team handed Hu's aides a list of political prisoners when the two met in New York two months ago and had expressed hope that at least some of them would be released by the time the president arrived here, as has been customary in the past. Instead, in the weeks before the visit, Chinese authorities sentenced an underground Christian pastor to three years in prison for illegally printing Bibles and closed down the firm of a prominent human rights lawyer.

Chinese police detained a group of 30 people who tried to see Bush to complain about the lack of political freedoms here, according to a member of the group who called the Associated Press after police stopped them outside the church where the president worshiped Sunday morning.

Rice said U.S. officials complained "quite vociferously" about the crackdown and acknowledged that the Chinese had not acted on the U.S. list. "We've certainly not seen the progress that we would expect, and I think we'll have to keep working on it," she said.

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