San Diego Union-Tribune

October 14, 2001

Bush set for coalition building trip Shanghai
  Meetings with Putin of Russia and Zemin of China top agenda


WASHINGTON -- President Bush plans to depart today for China and meetings with partners in the war against terrorism, sending a loud message that he will not be bunkered in the White House during the war.

His first stop on the way to China will be Northern California, where he is scheduled to address a business group in Sacrament and meet with troops that might be involved in the battle against those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

From Sacramento, he heads to Shanghai, the only stop in what was once to be a two-week, three-nation swing through Asia. Following the attacks, the White House scrubbed visits to Beijing, Japan and South Korea.

Aides said Bush is determined not to cancel his first trip to the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. APEC includes 21 countries in Asia and the Pacific Rim, including several countries critical to the coalition the president has constructed since Sept. 11.

At the top of that list are Russia and China, and Bush has meetings set with presidents Vladimir Putin and Jiang Zemin.

"This is an important moment in the coalition building," said James Steinberg, a member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. "This is, in effect, the east wing of the coalition, which is meeting in Shanghai."

The president rejected advice from some to stay home while U.S. warplanes are bombing targets in Afghanistan.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said, "The president feels very strongly, as he said to the American people, that we have to go about the business of doing what makes America strong. And he believes that one of his important tasks as president is to work on strengthening our alliances."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer stressed the sophistication of the communications equipment available to a president, calling it "second to none."

"He will be in frequent contact with everybody he needs to be in contact with throughout this (trip). I anticipate he'll be having lots of updates and phone calls, and he'll be able to give direction from the road, just as he would from the White House."

Top administration officials emphasized that one of the big challenges facing the president is reinvigorating a global economy shaken by weakness in the U.S. economy following the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Those concerns are near the top of the APEC agenda.

But as the 21 leaders prepare to converge on a Shanghai that has been both modernized and garrisoned for this meeting, Sept. 11 is overshadowing everything else.

"There has been a seismic shift that took place in our foreign policy" after the attacks, said Lael Brainard, a top economic adviser to President Clinton and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Bush's dealings with Russia and China. The president will have many meetings, including sessions with Islamic leaders from Indonesia -- the world's most populous Muslim nation and site of ongoing anti-American protests -- and Malaysia and Brunei. He will also meet with important coalition partners Japan and Korea.

"It really is striking to see how the events of Sept. 11 have really shaken up a set of relationships, which we all thought (we) were beginning to understand," Steinberg said. "There's nothing more striking than vis-a-vis Russia."

Before Sept. 11, Putin was seen as a cautious and tactical steward of foreign policy, a man with a good personal relationship with Bush but uncertain of whether to cast Russia's lot with the East or the West.

But on Sept. 11, the tactical became the strategic, and Putin tapped a previously unknown reservoir of boldness. He was the first world leader to call Bush and was among the first to enlist in the coalition.

"This was far and away the most strategic decision he has ever made in either foreign or domestic policy," said Michael McFaul, a Russia expert at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

The key decision for Putin was to agree to the stationing of U.S. troops in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Now, Putin comes to Shanghai hoping for reassurance that those troops will not remain permanently in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence. And Putin seeks "understanding" instead of criticism for Moscow's often-brutal crackdown on separatists in Chechnya.

For China, the support for the coalition has been more tenuous and the desire for payback more tangible, China experts said.

"The Russians are being actively helpful and supportive without seeking some immediate quid pro quo. The Chinese have been passively supportive and insisting on a quid pro quo," said Larry M. Wortzel, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.