President Bush's decision to go to China and possibly South Korea next month is a smart move.

Since Bush will already be in Japan for the funeral of Emperor Hirohito, the addition of an extra leg or two to the trip allows him to placate the sensitivities of those who still associate Hirohito with military aggression. Such people include the Chinese and Koreans, whose countries suffered under Japanese occupation.The trip to China also helps Bush to counter a planned trip there by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and signals American interest in strengthening Sino-American relations. The U.S. is interested in the possibility of more trade with China and in encouraging recent economic reforms that could take China toward more free enterprise.

The decision to visit China also draws attention to Bush's interest and expertise in foreign relations. He entered the White House with more international experience than most new presidents, having served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first U.S. envoy to China after President Nixon restored relations with the communist nation.

Meanwhile, a debate has been going on within the new U.S. administration over whether Washington should pay more attention to Asia even if it means paying a little less attention to Europe. By the itinerary of his coming trip, President Bush could be indicating which side of that debate is winning.