Bush declares Japan on 'path to reform'

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

TOKYO -- Sizing up Asia's trouble spots, President Bush said Tuesday that Japan's recession-ravaged economy "is on the path to reform" and urged the nation's legislature to help curb the spread of terrorism in the region.

"Freedom will prevail. Civilization and terrorism cannot coexist," Bush said in an address to the Diet, the oldest legislative body in Asia. "And by defeating terror, we will defend the peace of the world."

A day before visiting the desolate no man's land that separates South Korea from the reclusive communist regime to the north, Bush stood before Japanese lawmakers and declared, "We seek a region in which demilitarized zones and missile batteries no longer separate people with a common heritage, and a common future."

The joint session of the Diet gathered for Bush's speech in the massive chamber of its upper house, which featured ornately carved wood with a semicircle of legislators' desk. The Japanese and U.S. flags were hung side-by-side behind the lectern.

"I'm convinced the 21st century will be the Pacific century," Bush said, drawing one of several rounds of applause.

Increasing worry

The address capped a two-day visit designed to embrace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's economic reforms and launch a firm defense of Bush's hard-line stance against missile-trafficking North Korea.

U.S. allies are increasingly worried that the United States might be rushing toward military confrontation with the Bush-dubbed "axis of evil" -- North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Standing before Japanese lawmakers, the president said Japan and the United States share a desire to create a peaceful Asia where "the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction do not threaten humanity."

Bush has said North Korea, Iran and Iraq pose a threat because they seek weapons of mass destruction that could be used by terrorists. U.S. military leaders are talking with Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia about ways to increase military cooperation to pursue possible members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network or other terrorists throughout Asia.

In the most visible example, about 600 U.S. troops have begun advising Filipino soldiers fighting Muslim extremists on a southern island.

"Your response to the terrorist threat has demonstrated the strength of our alliance, and the indispensable role of Japan -- a role that is global, and begins in Asia," Bush said. Japan, one of Bush's staunchest allies in the war on terrorism, has provided logistical support to U.S. forces.

End trips in China

After the speech to the Diet, Bush ate lunch at the Imperial Palace with Emperor Akihito and then continued on to Seoul, South Korea. Bush ends the weeklong trip in China, where he has promised to push the nation's leaders to improve human rights.

"China will find that America speaks for the universal values that gave our nation birth -- the rule of law, freedom of conscience and religion, and the rights and dignity of every life," Bush told the Diet.

He also sought to shore up Koizumi, who has been unable to kick-start Japan's ailing economy.

"Japan has some of the most competitive corporations, some of the most educated and motivated workers in the world. And Japan, thanks to my friend Junichiro Koizumi, is on the path to reform," Bush said.

Japan is mired in its third recession in a decade, with unemployment at a postwar high of 5.6 percent. Banks are saddled with billions of dollars in bad loans and deflation is wiping out the value of property they hold as collateral.

After nearly a year of inaction, Koizumi repackaged his efforts to fight deflation and revive a sagging banking sector. He hoped that Bush's visit would give new momentum to his reform plans.

The president reminded Japan that America struggled through tough economic times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but reformed its system.

Bush aides were still smarting Tuesday from a mistake the president made in the news conference a day before.

Seeking to show support for Koizumi's economic policies, Bush said that he and the prime minister had discussed "nonperforming loans, the devaluation issue and regulatory reform."

Shortly after the news conference, White House aides said Bush misspoke and the two leaders had actually talked about deflation -- not devaluation, the much more prickly issue of Japan allegedly letting its yen drop in value against the dollar.

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