February 17, 2002
'Axis of evil' adds twist to Bush visit
Questions about North Korea remark await president in Asia
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – When President Bush arrives in Tokyo tonight,
he will quickly discover his words have preceded him, forcing
him to use valuable time in his first major Asian tour to explain
what he meant when he recently warned of an "axis of evil," with
North Korea as one of its main villains.
Nowhere will that explanation be more important than in South
Korea, one of three countries the president will visit during his
weeklong trip – the longest he has been out of the country since
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Already there have been large and loud protests outside the U.S.
Embassy in Seoul, and the nervousness of South Korean officials has been palpable since the "axis of evil" remark seemed to
suggest a break in the normal U.S.-South Korean solidarity.
Before leaving Washington yesterday, Bush said the dividing
zone between North and South Korea is "one of the most
dangerous places on earth." The United States will resist any
move by the communist North to use its arsenal to menace
peace and freedom, he said.
Bush said he supports South Korean efforts for a dialogue of
friendship and reconciliation with North Korea. But, he added, "I
will remind the world that America will not allow North Korea
and other dangerous regimes to threaten freedom with weapons
of mass destruction."
Bush also is expected to face questions in Japan and China even
as he grapples with other major issues.
The agenda is topped by the continuing war against terrorism.
But the president also plans to address the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction, human rights and the growing
concern in Washington over a potential collapse of the Japanese
banking system that would send ripples throughout the world
With such big problems looming from allies in Japan and South
Korea, longtime China scholar Bates Gill of the Brookings
Institution marveled that the Beijing part of the trip was in
danger of being overshadowed.
"This is remarkable," he said. "This president is going to
Northeast Asia, and the best time he's going to have is in Beijing."
Indeed, China will get only about 36 hours of the president's
time – though it will be important symbolically, timed by the
White House to have Bush arriving in Beijing 30 years almost to
the hour after President Richard Nixon's historic arrival in 1972.
The trip keeps a promise made by Bush last year when the war
on terrorism prompted him to shorten a visit to China and
eliminate stops in Japan and South Korea. The president is
scheduled to spend tomorrow and Tuesday in Tokyo,
Wednesday in Seoul and Thursday and Friday in Beijing.
The trip presents starkly different challenges and personal
context at each of the stops.
In recession-racked Japan, embattled Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi sees Bush as a contemporary, a fellow baseball fanatic
and a friend – to the extent that he once greeted Bush with a loud
"Gary Cooper," explaining that "High Noon" is his favorite movie and that Bush's stand against terrorism reminds him of the
movie's star. Bush responded by giving him a "High Noon" poster that the prime minister has on his office wall.
In Seoul, there will be no nicknames when Bush meets with
Prime Minister Kim Dae-jung, a much older and more reserved
leader famed for a long pro-democracy battle that won him the
Nobel Peace Prize. Now in his final months in office, the prime
minister has had a rocky relationship with Bush. The South
Koreans feel Bush embarrassed them when the two met at the
White House last year and Bush undercut Kim's "sunshine" policy
of reconciliation with the North.
In China, Bush will meet with Jiang Zemin, another leader on his
way out of office. Jiang sees improved relations with Washington
as a key part of his legacy and is expected to mute many of the simmering policy disputes with Bush. Equally important to
future ties is the opportunity provided Bush to talk with Jiang's replacements, a group of younger leaders known as the "fourth
generation" of communists.
Aides say the president is braced for questions about his State of
the Union depiction of North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Bush is
ready to defend his remarks.
"We believe you can have a policy that speaks the truth, (and)
speaks clearly about the North Korean regime, and yet leaves
open the possibility of dialogue," Rice said.
Babina Hwang, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage
Foundation, said Bush will be greeted in Seoul by "a very large
misperception about U.S. policy toward North Korea."
The president's inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil"
remark "sent shudders through much of the world community,"
Hwang said. "Does this mean that the U.S. is going to rain down
bombs on Pyongyang anytime soon? No. And President Bush
never said that would happen."
But that is the fear of many in South Korea. "And that will be the
main issue for President Bush. He will essentially have to dispel this myth and this misperception," Hwang said.
Kurt Campbell, a former deputy secretary of defense for East
Asia and the director of the international security program at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Asian
leaders have spent "an enormous amount of time" trying to
figure out what Bush was trying to do with the "axis of evil."
"I have never seen as much close textual analysis of a
presidential statement since the Reagan doctrine (was
enunciated) in 1986," Campbell said. "I think what you will find
among polite Asian hosts is not criticism of the speech, but
questions to clarify it – 'Please tell us a little bit more what you
have in mind and what you're thinking about.' "
Even more will have to be done with the people of South Korea,
said Victor Cha, an Asian expert at Georgetown University. "The
South Korean public is not very happy with the speech," he said,
citing polls there that show one-third blame the United States for
failure of the "sunshine" policy.
"It is very important that the United States not be seen as the
enemy of Korean peace. And right now there is the potential for
that," Cha said.
Bush's schedule is designed to help counter that impression. The
president will visit some of the 38,000 U.S. troops still manning the last outpost of the Cold War, the DMZ separating North from
South. And he will visit both a highway outpost and a train station to emphasize the North's refusal to follow through on
promises to ease travel between the two Koreas.
The president will also try to assure Kim that the United States
supports the "sunshine" policy.
"The president sees absolutely no contradiction between calling
the North Korean regime precisely what it is – a secretive and
repressive regime that is trying to acquire weapons of mass
destruction . . . and efforts by the South Korean president . . . to
try and open up an avenue for North Korea to come across, to
get out of its bad behavior and to seek reconciliation with the
South," Rice said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report