The White House is holding out only modest expectations for President Bush's trip to Asia next week, but his first major journey abroad nonetheless poses a multitude of intriguing opportunities and daunting problems.

Bush's attendance at Emperor Hirohito's funeral on Friday is designed to affirm the importance of the U.S.-Japanese relationship, officials say. Subsequent stops in China and South Korea are intended to establish more intimate ties with other world leaders. No substantive bargaining sessions are planned.The talks occur at a time when the region has become an economic powerhouse where ideology has given way to pragmatism and military tensions are subsiding. In addition, the Soviet Union's fervent desire to boost its influence in Asia is a development of which the Bush administration is keenly aware.

The president is no stranger to the area, having served as envoy to China in the mid-1970s. He also traveled to the three nations at various times during his eight-year tenure as vice president.

The symbolism of Bush's decision to attend Hirohito's funeral has not escaped his hosts. Bush was a Navy bomber pilot shot down over the Pacific by the Japanese in World War II. Hirohito, the longest reigning emperor in Japanese history, presided over his country's war effort.

Each of the three countries Bush will visit poses unique challenges.

Japan's huge trade surplus with the United States has been a source of consternation for Americans for some time.

In China, Bush will find a far different nation than the one he once knew. Under Deng Xiaoping's leadership, the People's Republic has adopted a blend of free-market modernization and government controls that has transformed China into a hybrid economy.

Chinese leaders are expected to push the United States to ease barriers to high-technology transfers to their nation. And they also are likely to bring up a subject Bush administration officials have no desire to discuss: Taiwan.

Finally, there is South Korea. The democracy flowering in that nation has also sprouted stronger anti-American sentiments focusing on the U.S. military presence. There are about 43,000 American troops in South Korea.

The president will be in Seoul for slightly more than four hours, and while anti-American protests are planned, his trip has been orchestrated to avoid exposure to any demonstrations.