Bush Begins Asia Trip with Visit to Japan

President Bush arrived in Japan Tuesday and met Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Bush's closest ally in the region. Alex Chadwick speaks with NPR White House correspondent David Greene about the president's trip to Asia, which will also include official visits to South Korea, China and Mongolia.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick on what those old documents tell us about Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito.

First, the lead: President Bush's Asia tour. He arrived in Japan today. Tomorrow he meets with Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi. NPR White House correspondent David Greene is covering the president's tour. He joins us from Kyoto.

David, what will Mr. Bush and Mr. Koizumi be talking about?

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, they're going to be talking about the strength of their alliance. The White House speaks of Prime Minister Koizumi as one of President Bush's closest allies on the world stage. But there are some thorny issues in the relationship, and one of the big ones is American beef. Japan hasn't imported any of it since 2003 when the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in the United States. It is really rankling ranchers and a lot of Congress members back in the United States who are putting pressure on President Bush to do what he can to open up the market again in Japan to American beef products.

CHADWICK: OK. China also a theme overall of this trip. There's a conference--I think it's in China, isn't it?--with other Pacific Rim leaders at the end of the week. What's the focus there?

GREENE: The APEC economic summit is actually the president's next stop, and that's going to be in South Korea, and then the president moves on to Beijing, and that's really where the president's diplomatic dance may be on this trip. There are some tough issues. The president wants to press President Hu Jintao on cracking down on violations of intellectual property law, and one of the biggest issues is trade. The Chinese trade surplus over the United States is growing; it's in the neighborhood of $200 billion a year now. The president wants to try and push the Chinese to change the way it values its currency. At the moment, that's one of the biggest problems. The way the Chinese value their currency gives their exporters a huge advantage over the United States, and it's not good for US business.

CHADWICK: David, I'm struck by this in comments I read about this trip coming up. The president's advisers and aides are telling reporters don't expect anything to come out of this, or don't expect much. This is just kind of a visit with no immediate concrete goals.

GREENE: You know, this White House has always lowered expectations when the president goes on a foreign trip. But even more so here, and I think you have to look back to the Latin American summit that the president just had in Argentina. The White House was stung. A lot of journalists set a benchmark for success that the president would get a new deal on a free trade zone in the Americas; he didn't get it. And it was kind of labeled a failure. I think they're avoiding setting any benchmarks for this trip.

CHADWICK: Before he left this country, in Alaska at an Air Force base on his way out, the president did direct some remarks back to Democrats in Washington saying they're trying to rewrite history with complaints that he misled the nation into war in Iraq. How about that?

GREENE: His poll numbers on Iraq are very, very bad, and he's taking a much tougher stance, and he wants to keep pounding this theme: Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq who are now accusing him of twisting intelligence to go to war are irresponsible and sending the wrong message to troops. It's angering Democrats and it's creating a new political war in Washington.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene, speaking with us from Kyoto, Japan, where he's covering President Bush's tour of Asia. Thank you, David.

GREENE: My pleasure, Alex.

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