Bush Engages Asia-Pacific Leaders Bilaterally, Multilaterally

By Melody Merin
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – For leaders of economies in the region, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, provides a "moment of opportunity" for the leaders to discuss a wide range of topics, including free trade, the global war on terrorism and North Korea’s nuclear program, according to U.S. officials.

Leaders from the 21 APEC member economies - Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Thailand, the United States and Vietnam – are meeting November 18 and November 19 in Hanoi, Vietnam, to discuss common trade and security concerns.  (See related article.)

In a November 18 press briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley recapped the President Bush’s trip thus far and outlined the discussions that took place on the sidelines of the APEC meeting among seven of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (Cambodia, Laos and Burma are not members of APEC and thus had no representatives at the APEC meeting.)

Hadley said that Bush thanked the leaders for the strong ASEAN statement on North Korea just a few days before North Korea indicated it would return to the talks.  He also emphasized the importance of trade, and of an Asia-Pacific free-trade agreement to the prosperity and stability of the region, according to Hadley.

He said that other areas of cooperation outlined by the president included avian influenza and pandemic preparedness, the promotion and protection of democracy (particularly in Thailand, which recently underwent a military takeover, and in Burma, currently headed by a repressive regime), development of alternative energy sources such as biofuels, and cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

"There was a fairly extensive discussion among the leaders," Hadley said, the central focus of which was "the importance of strengthening U.S.-ASEAN ties, and [building] on the enhanced partnership that was announced in 2005 in the meeting between the president and ASEAN." (See related article.)

Ideas to advance those goals included mirroring the business dialogue that accompanies ASEAN with a forum of business leaders from the United States and ASEAN countries and establishing an exchange program with students from the United States and the various ASEAN countries. "There was a sense among a number of leaders that enhancing exchanges between the United States and ASEAN at all levels was an important feature of that relationship going forward," Hadley said.


Calling the president’s meeting with South Korea’s President Roh Moo-hyun "constructive," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said in a November 17 briefing that the North Korea situation topped the agenda. Snow said "the two leaders discussed the importance of working within the framework of the Six-Party Talks to make it clear to the North Koreans that they should dismantle all their nuclear programs, renounce nuclear weapons and return to the Six-Party Talks."

Snow added that Roh reaffirmed his commitment to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed mandatory international sanctions on North Korea. (See related article.)

On the question of South Korea’s purported rejection of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global initiative aimed at stopping shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Snow said Roh had expressed his support for the "principles and goals" of PSI.

"South Korea accepted the principles and objectives of PSI, and … will be cooperating on a case-by-case basis with it," Hadley said in his November 18 briefing. "So we think this is actually a positive affirmation of South Korea [and South Korea is] participating in the effort to interrupt the trade in and out of North Korea, and to put some pressure on North Korea in aid of a diplomatic solution."

President Bush, following his meeting the South Korean president, said, "We had a discussion like you would expect allies to have a discussion. We are allies in peace. We are allies in working to improve the lives of our fellow citizens."


The APEC meeting also provided an opportunity for the president to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to Hadley, this was the first meeting between President Bush and the Japanese prime minister, who was elected September 26.

Both leaders confirmed their shared view on North Korea and the "importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance," said Hadley. Bush also reaffirmed U.S. defense commitments to Japan and assured the prime minister "that the United States would not leave Iraq until the job is done," according to the national security advisor.

Following his meeting with the U.S. president, Abe told reporters that both nations "share an alliance which is based on fundamental values, such as freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law. And we agreed with each other that strengthening our alliance would be a good in maintaining peace and security of not just Japan and the region surrounding Japan, but the entire world."


While in Vietnam for the APEC meeting, the president visited a center dedicated to the search for remains of American military personnel still unaccounted for in the aftermath of the U.S. military actions in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. "It was a very good briefing [President Bush] received on the status of that effort," said Hadley.

Vietnam’s attitude toward the United States in recent years has changed in recent years, Snow told reporters. "There is a real desire in Vietnam for closer commercial ties, for closer cultural ties - the President talk[ed] last night about getting more Vietnamese students to the United States. … [T]here's a vibrancy here because the Vietnamese people have been working on reform projects that are allowing them to begin to get a glimpse of their entrepreneurial potential, and they want more of it."

Noting on the "importance" of Vietnam’s role in the international community, U.S. Secretary of State Rice, during a November 17 roundtable interview with local journalists, said that the "United States is interested in extending and deepening our relations" in part because of Vietnam’s "strong economic potential."

Speaking on relations between the two countries, Hadley said, "U.S.-Vietnamese relations, good U.S.-Vietnamese relations is a piece of Vietnam's vision for the future of the country. … They clearly believe that relations with the United States can make a contribution to that. And I think you've seen the broadening of that relationship over the years."

In addition to Bush’s individual meetings with Roh and Abe, there was also a trilateral meeting among the three leaders at which they discussed their common values as well as economic and security challenges, according to Hadley.

Transcripts of the briefings by Hadley and Snow are available on the White House Web site. A transcript of Rice’s roundtable with local journalists is available on the State Department Web site.