President Bush, taking his message of conciliation and cooperation across the Pacific, headed for Japan, China and South Korea Wednesday to bolster U.S. strategic and economic relationships in Asia.
Making his first overseas journey as president, Bush left Andrews Air Force Base at 6:11 a.m. EST for Tokyo, where he will attend the state funeral of Emperor Hirohito. The ceremony Friday is expected to be one of the most elaborate in postwar history, attracting top officials from 154 nations.Bush was to land in Anchorage, Alaska, for a refueling stop before continuing to Japan.
In making the five-day swing through Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, Bush is reaching out to the strategic Pacific Rim, where he wants to stress the importance of the U.S. relationship with Asia.
"This trip will be a mixture of solemn duty, sentimental journey and reaffirmation of strong ties with staunch allies," Bush said Tuesday.
While in Tokyo, Bush will squeeze bilateral meetings with world leaders into every free minute, starting with French President Francois Mitterrand at the U.S. Embassy promptly on his arrival and including discussions with Middle East leaders - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Hussein and Israel's President Chaim Herzog - as well as leaders of Brazil, the Netherlands, West Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Thailand and others.
Bush, his presidency a little more than a month old, also plans talks with Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita the day he arrives and will pay a courtesy call on the new emperor, 55-year-old Akihito, before departing.
From there he heads to Beijing, China, for a homecoming of sorts for the Bushes, who spent a year there from 1974 to 1975 when he was chief of the U.S. liaison before diplomatic relations were established between China and the United States.
His talks with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping are considered significant in view of the warming Sino-Soviet relations and a planned visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Beijing in May.
And in Seoul, where Bush will spend only a few hours meeting with President Roh Tae Woo and addressing the National Assembly, another dramatic summit meeting will be high on the agenda, one possible between Roh and North Korea's longtime communist strongman, Kim II Sung.
Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, laying out the whirlwind agenda on Tuesday, said, "We're trying to see as many as possible, so the substance will not be extensive. But there will be time to discuss one or two major issues."
Bush will meet Takeshita for 90 minutes on Thursday, but Scowcroft said the the two leaders, who met only recently in Washington, were expected to avoid the most difficult current problems in U.S.-Japanese relations, including the $50 billion annual U.S. trade deficit with Japan, the question of Japan carrying a larger portion of defense and aid requirements, and the sale of U.S. defense technology to the island nation.
"This trip is mainly to have some serious discussions with important Asian allies and to make clear the U.S. plans to play an important role in the Pacific," Scowcroft said.
But Scowcroft said Bush's approach - his reaching out symbolically in the spirit of conciliation to campaign opponents, members of Congress, and most recently to NATO allies through his secretary of state - will be be much the same.
"The significance of face-to-face opportunity is to get at least out on the table a few issues for discussion," the adviser said. "It's very, very important and it eases the sense of communication between countries after that if you've had this personal contact."