Monday, November 20, 2006
SINGAPORE — Promising that the United States is committed to an era of "partnership, not paternalism," President Bush campaigned Thursday for free trade and democracy across the rapidly developing Pacific region, while drawing a line against the expansion of nuclear weaponry there.
President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin of Russia exchange handshakes Sunday at the Sheraton Hanoi after their two countries signed agreements supporting Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization." White House photo by Eric Draper Reiterating his insistence that his administration will not tolerate the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Bush issued a pointed warning to North Korea that any regime that shares nuclear technology with terrorists will be held "fully accountable."
In an address Thursday delivered on the tropical and modern campus of the National University of Singapore at the start of a Southeast Asian tour, Bush delivered a message of hope, holding out Singapore's evolution from remote backwater to economic giant as emblematic of the "story of Asia."
Yet, in the aftermath of American elections that have exerted new pressure on the president to adjust the course of the war in Iraq, Bush made no reference to Iraq during his remarks.
While underscoring his theme that the development of democracy in the region holds the greatest promise for the defeat of terrorists who have struck hard in Southeast Asia, his message of economic hope and democracy was tempered by admonitions about the threat that terrorism poses to security in the region.
"In this new century, America will remain engaged in Asia, because our interests depend on the expansion of freedom and opportunity in this region," Bush said Thursday. "In this new century, our trade across the Pacific is greater than our trade across the Atlantic . . . (But) in this new century, we see threats like terrorism and proliferation and disease that have the potential to undermine our prosperity and put our futures in doubt."
The president reiterated a warning against sentiments of "isolation" from the world and "protectionism" against free trade back home that he cited during his last State of the Union address.
"We hear voices calling for us to retreat from the world and close our doors to its opportunities," Bush said. "These are the old temptations of isolationism and protectionism, and America must reject them. We must maintain our presence in the Pacific. We must seize on our common opportunities. We must be willing to confront our common threats.
"Every nation that works to advance prosperity, health and opportunity for all its people will find a ready partner in the United States."
The president is confronting concerns throughout Asia about U.S. policy in the region and the world. So the State Department was pleased when Bush got down on his knees to play an Asian xylophone _ a saron _ during a brief performance of musicians at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore _ an act captured on video clips replayed throughout the region. It was considered a good "first contact" for the president.
Bush is pressing a goal here that has been sought for more than a decade.
The administration issued an Asia-Pacific regional policy statement in conjunction with the president's appearance Thursday stating: "President Bush believes the idea of a free-trade agreement for the entire APEC region deserves serious consideration."
But the leaders of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, whose summit Bush will attend this weekend in Hanoi, have pursued since 1994 a regional free-trade accord among the leading nations by 2010 and among the lesser developed by 2020.
"I believe this idea deserves serious consideration," said Bush, overlooking the fact that it has been a longtime goal with little progress made.
Nations within the APEC alliance have negotiated a patchwork of trade accords. The United States has agreements with Singapore and Australia and is negotiating deals with Malaysia and South Korea.
"We've got a lot in common," Bush said during a meeting Thursday with the prime minister of Singapore, meeting in the old British colonial governor's palace in a modern city of dense high-rises and commerce on an island that has been a center for world trade for decades. "Your country has shown that open markets are capable of lifting up an entire people."
Still, the region faces two potential threats in terrorism and in North Korea, Bush said.
"The danger is unmistakable," he said. "Irresponsible behavior by a few can have catastrophic consequences for the entire world.
"The greatest danger in our world today is that these terrorists could get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and use them to blackmail free nations or to kill on an unimaginable scale. This threat poses a risk to our entire civilization."
While expressing a continuing commitment to six-party talks among the U.S. and Asian nations attempting to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Bush said that, should Pyongyang share its technology with terrorists, "we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action."
(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.
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