Bush en route to East Asia
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush departed Saturday for East Asia where he plans to meet with China's heir apparent, talk tough about North Korea's weapons programs and discuss how to boost Japan's sagging economy.
"I can't wait to take our message overseas," Bush told an enthusiastic crowd in a stopover Saturday afternoon at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
" I look forward to sharing with them my passionate belief in the values we hold dear."
Bush planned to visit Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing in October, but the trip was postponed because of the September 11 attacks.
The president was set to arrive Sunday in Japan's capital, where economics were expected to dominate discussions between Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
U.S. officials believe that before extensive economic reform can take place in Japan, the country must lower its record unemployment of about 5.6 percent and liquidate more than $1 trillion in bad loans issued by its banks.
The two countries also differ over such key issues as the Kyoto protocol, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of curbing global warming, and how to deal with North Korea.
"I'm convinced that they'll come out with a unified position -- perhaps not an identical position, but a unified position," Howard Baker, U.S. ambassador to Japan, told CNN.
"I think the friendship and mutual admiration between the prime minister and the president will facilitate that."
From Japan, Bush will travel to South Korea where security issues were expected to be paramount.
A senior U.S. official downplayed initial public concerns from South Korean officials about Bush referring to North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union speech last month, saying the South Koreans are "much more reassured now."
But South Korean Ambassador to the United States Yang Sung-Chul said Bush's words touched "sensitivities as well as sensibilities" in North and South Korea.
Sung-Chul said his nation's diplomatic efforts with North Korea, part of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's reconciliatory "Sunshine Policy" toward the North, is slowly bearing fruit.
Bush's meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin in Beijing, the last stop on his three-nation trip, will come 30 years after President Nixon's groundbreaking visit to the communist country.
Bush and Chinese leaders were expected to discuss human rights and religious freedom, China's production and sale of weaponry, and the issue of Taiwan, the island nation that Beijing has long claimed as a breakaway province.
A senior U.S. official said there was a "strong possibility" Bush will meet with Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, who is expected to succeed Jiang at the 16th Communist Party Conference later this year.
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