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President Bush's tour of Asia started in Japan in that country's ancient capital, Kyoto. He met with Junichiro Koizumi, who is Japan's prime minister and also, according to the president, one of his closest friends on the world stage. During that visit, the president was trying to set the tone for what comes next, a visit to Beijing later this week. NPR's David Greene is traveling with the president.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi began their day visiting one of Kyoto's famed Buddhist temples and playing up their cozy relationship. But their alliance is not without its strains. One thorny issue is Iraq. Despite opposition at home, Koizumi has supported Mr. Bush and kept a contingent of non-combat forces in Iraq, but Japan's deployment is scheduled to end next month. Koizumi said he plans to assist in Iraq's reconstruction but he was non-committal on whether he'd extend the deployment. Mr. Bush said it's strictly his decision.
(Soundbite of press conference)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Obviously the extent to which the Japanese government wants to give reconstruction money to Iraq is up to the Japanese government, and as to the deployment of troops, it's up to the government. This is what happens in democracies. Government makes decisions that they're capable of living with and that's what we said. We said, `Do the best you can do. Make up your own mind. It's your decision, not mine.'
GREENE: Mr. Bush kept with the theme of democracy but began to turn his attention away from Japan and towards China, where he'll be this weekend. In an afternoon speech in Kyoto, Mr. Bush said China's president, Hu Jintao, and other leaders are learning an important lesson as they make economic reforms and make some Chinese citizens more prosperous. The lesson, Mr. Bush said, is that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed. Mr. Bush hailed Asian societies that have embraced democracy, like Japan and South Korea. He even brought up Taiwan as an example China could follow.
(Soundbite of speech)
Pres. BUSH: By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society.
GREENE: The president quickly made clear that he still opposes Taiwanese independence. Still, his message wasn't likely to please Beijing. The Chinese see Taiwan as a renegade province that belongs to them, not as a shining democracy worthy of emulating. Mike Green, an Asian specialist on the White House National Security Council, said Mr. Bush included the reference to Taiwan to illustrate that democratic freedoms are not bound by cultural or historic ties. He said the president did not intend to lecture China's president, but Mr. Bush seemed to come pretty close. Again, his speech in Kyoto.
(Soundbite of speech)
Pres. BUSH: President Hu has explained to me his vision of peaceful development, and he wants his people to be more prosperous. I pointed out that the people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment.
GREENE: Before heading to Beijing, Mr. Bush is stopping in South Korea for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, or APEC. High on the agenda is avian bird flu. The 21 leaders are hoping to hash out a plan to prepare the region for a possible pandemic. White House officials say the president also plans to confer with allies about North Korea. On his stop in Japan, Mr. Bush repeated his call for North Korea to verifiably dismantle all nuclear weapons programs if it wants to be accepted in the international community.
David Greene, NPR News, Kyoto.
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