U.S. President George Bush leaves Washington Monday on what is likely to
be his final official trip to Asia. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson
reports he will travel to South Korea, Thailand and China for the start of the
From the streets of Seoul, to the Olympic venues
in Beijing, this trip was controversial before it even began.
was originally expected to travel to Seoul several weeks ago, following the G-8
summit in Japan.
Those plans were changed when Koreans staged
massive demonstrations to protest a deal on American beef imports, and to show
their discontent with their government.
Byong-Ki Kim of Korea University
in Seoul says it was the wrong time for a presidential visit.
"The timing, let's say a month ago, would have been different for Bush to
come," Kim said. "It is not only playing into the domestic political processes,
but to possibly even be utilized politically in a very unproductive manner. It
is purely domestic politics. It happens anywhere in the world."
the political climate is still volatile but has cooled a bit. And he says the
Bush visit will show just how well the government can handle its diplomatic
First stop of tour takes Bush to South
The talks in Seoul are likely to focus on matters of trade
and finance, as well as the status of American forces in South Korea.
But North Korea's nuclear ambitions should dominate the discussions.
Derek Mitchell is an Asia policy expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington. He calls North Korea a "legacy issue" for
"He has a lot on the line and we are getting to the very difficult period on
the issue of verification of the declaration the North Koreans have provided on
their nuclear program," Mitchell said.
In Thailand, Bush will discuss
Mr. Bush is expected to shift focus in Thailand to another
world trouble spot - neighboring Burma.
"Our message is the United States believes in democracy and freedom," Mr.
Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirik of Bangkok's Chulalonghorn
University says Mr. Bush may be focusing too much on Burma and not enough on
other matters of concern in the region.
"When the Bush administration
pays attention to Southeast Asia, it's about Burma," Pongsudhirik said. "So, the
U.S. foreign policy has really not fully engaged in the region."
is the only Southeast Asian country on the trip, and the president will stay
there less than 24 hours.
Bush will cheer for US Athletes at Beijing
The next day he will be
off to Beijing where he hopes to play another role - that of sports
"I think it would be good for these athletes who have worked hard to
see their President, waving that flag," Mr. Bush said.
says that may be wishful thinking on the part of the president.
"The president simply can't go as a human being enjoying sports," Mitchell
said. "The president goes with the full weight and prestige of the United States
when he sits at the opening ceremonies and sees the celebration of China."
Critics weigh in on Bush trip to
Critics say Beijing's actions in Tibet and Sudan's Darfur region provide
enough reason for a presidential boycott.
But Mitchell says once Mr.
Bush accepted the invitation from Chinese President Hu Jintao, there was no
"He said he was going immediately so it was much more difficult for him to
backtrack from that without seeming to humiliate or embarrass the Chinese people
in some way," Mitchell said.
President Bush has said skipping the games
would be an affront to the Chinese.
And at a send-off ceremony for American Olympians at the White House, he said
he can not wait to cheer them on in person.
"I'm fired up to go," Mr.
Bush said. "I can't wait to salute our athletes, and I can't wait to share in
the joy of your triumphs."
The president said he sees the U.S. athletes
as ambassadors of liberty, who will represent America's love for freedom in