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Bush heads to Asia for diplomacy and sports

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BEN FELLER
August 4, 2008
— President Bush's agenda in Asia this week is front-loaded with trouble on the continent: nuclear worries, political repression, recovery from natural disaster.

Then comes plenty of sports.


Bush embarks Monday on his last venture as president to the Far East, a trip built around the Olympic Games in Beijing. The president will stop en route at an Alaskan Air Force base to speak to military personnel and get his plane refueled, then fly through the night to South Korea.


With less than six months left in office, Bush is out to show that the United States is engaged in Asia's affairs, and that the economic and security dividends pay off back home.


His enthusiastic plans to attend the Olympics are meant to pay respect to the Chinese people in their moment of glory. Yet as hard as Bush tries to define the games only in the context of sports, there is no escaping the politics of a world event held in a police state.


China, trying to ensure the event is clean of controversy, has only intensified its repression of political dissent, religious expression and press coverage. Bush says he can and will candidly raise concerns about China's human rights record to President Hu Jintao.


Given the long travel and time differences, Bush begins his agenda in earnest on Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea.


The country is a key partner in the six-country coalition striving to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Progress has been stop and start as the world watches to see whether North Korea will come to terms on allowing its nuclear dismantling to be verified.


The timing of Bush's visit to Seoul is a bit better than just a few weeks ago. Public unrest over U.S. beef imports has receded, and the U.S. has reversed course on a decision that angered South Korea regarding some disputed islands between Japan and South Korea.


In Thailand, where a coalition government is enduring rocky times, Bush will spell out his vision for the U.S. presence in the Far East after he leaves office. He will also meet with activists who oppose the repression of the military junta in neighboring Myanmar.


That country, also known as Burma, sustained a cyclone in May that killed roughly 80,000 people and put more than 2 million people in need of aid. Bush will be briefed on recovery efforts during his Thailand visit.


The president caps his trip with four days in Beijing, mixing in a dash of diplomacy with plenty of unstructured time to watch Olympic sporting events. Bush will be joined by members of his family, including his dad, a former president who once served as an envoy to China.



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