By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 7, 2007
SYDNEY, Sept. 7 -- President Bush on Friday called on Pacific Rim leaders to support efforts to expand free trade, saying that open markets are a crucial element in strengthening the "forces of freedom and prosperity."
Speaking to business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum at the famed Sydney Opera House, Bush said free trade is the only route to long-term freedom and growth, despite the short-term pain it often causes in industrialized nations in terms of lost jobs and stagnant wages.
"The surest road to stagnation and instability is the path of isolation and protectionism," Bush said. "And the only road to enduring prosperity and stability is through open markets and open trade."
Bush wants leaders at the summit to push for progress in the so-called Doha round of the World Trade Organization talks, which have been stalled largely over differences between the United States and the European Union over tariffs and farm subsidies.
Bush also urged Pacific Rim leaders to address energy security and climate change in an "integrated" fashion, while continuing to battle terrorism.
Bush's address, his major speech at the 21-nation APEC conference, came one day after his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. In the 90-minute session, Hu assured Bush that his government is very concerned about the safety of products made in China, noting that they are sold not only overseas but also to consumers at home, White House aides said.
The session between the two leaders touched on a wide variety of other issues, including the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Hu reiterated an invitation to Bush and his family to attend the Games, Bush said. "I was anxious to accept," he recounted afterward.
Sensitive to concerns about China's human rights record, a Bush aide added a caveat to Bush's acceptance. The president would be attending "for the sports" and not to make any political statement, said James F. Jeffrey, a deputy national security adviser.
Bush and Hu described their meeting as cordial and open. "He's an easy man to talk to," Bush said. "I'm very comfortable in my discussions with President Hu."
Bush said that in the meeting, "I had a chance to share once again with the president my belief in religious freedom and religious liberty." That amounted to a criticism of China's control of religious expression. Aides said later that Bush told Hu that he would attend a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the Dalai Lama in Washington in October.
Contamination in Chinese-made food and products sold in the United States has become a major point of friction between the two countries in recent months, leading the Chinese government to launch a public relations offensive to shore up its reputation as a world trader.
Bush said Hu had been "quite articulate about product safety, and I appreciated his comments." Bush did not elaborate.
According to Daniel M. Price, a deputy national security adviser, Hu brought up the issue in the meeting and welcomed heightened cooperation with the United States. The two leaders discussed revisions to their laws and regulations concerning product safety, and enhanced enforcement and inspections being undertaken by China. Bush assured Hu that U.S. concerns about safety did not amount to trade protectionism.
Before the meeting, Bush said he would continue nudging China to be more aggressive in pressuring Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program. Jeffrey said Bush urged "international solidarity" in moving toward a possible third U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran.
Bush also planned to ask Hu to be more assertive in pressing the Sudanese government to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. China has extensive investments in Sudan's burgeoning oil industry. On that front, Jeffrey said, the Chinese reaffirmed plans to send a team of engineers to Darfur to help U.N. peacekeepers struggling to contain the violence there.
Bush raised the issue of China's currency, the yuan, which many economists believe is undervalued, contributing to the U.S. trade deficit with China. Price said Hu indicated that China is moving toward allowing the market to have more influence in valuing the yuan.
The leaders affirmed plans to continue high-level military exchanges. Their governments hope to announce soon that they will establish a hotline between their militaries, Jeffrey said.
According to U.S. accounts, Bush tried to persuade Hu to embrace efforts to address the increasingly urgent issue of climate change by setting nonbinding goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.
With its roaring economy and a population more than four times the U.S. total, China has overtaken the United States as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, according to at least one study. Hu said after the meeting that he shared Bush's concern about climate change, if not his approach to attacking it. "We believe that the issue of climate change bears on the welfare of the whole humanity and sustainable development of the whole world," Hu said.
China's leaders have been reluctant to endorse global climate change plans that are near the top of the agenda at the summit, which officially begins Friday. Like most developing nations, China is concerned that the declaration acknowledge "common but differentiated responsibilities" for individual nations when it comes to addressing global warming, Price said.