Bush arrives for Apec meeting

United States President George Bush arrived on Wednesday in South Korea ahead of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders after making a bold call for China to launch democratic reforms.

His arrival came as a joint statement from the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum sought to pressure the European Union into making more concessions on agricultural subsidies.

“We call for the breaking of the current impasse in agriculture negotiations,” said the statement, approved by foreign and trade ministers at a meeting in the South Korean city of Busan.

It said the farm issue must be addressed first to ensure progress at next month’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong on the so-called Doha round of trade talks that should be completed by 2006.

But EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said on Tuesday that the EU does not plan to make a further offer on agriculture before the December 13 to 18 WTO ministerial meeting.

The EU stance means the Hong Kong meeting will be nothing more than a chance to review progress in the Doha round that began in the Qatari capital in 2001, US trade representative Rob Portman told journalists on the sidelines of the Apec meeting.

The statement also made strong commitments on counter-terrorism, although US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Apec members to do more.

“Apec nations must deepen our cooperation in the global fight against terrorism,” Rice said.

“In the past year, we have seen that the threat of global terrorism is still very real, with vicious new attacks in Indonesia and Russia and the Philippines,” she said, singling out Apec member countries. “We must build on our new partnership to deny criminals and terrorists access to deadly conventional weapons.”

The Apec ministers also agreed to ensure “by the end of 2006” that all major airports are safe from attacks by shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles.

Washington had been pushing hard for the adoption of tighter measures to counter the threat posed to civil aviation by so-called man-portable air defence systems.

On bird flu, the ministers pledged to take steps to ensure a swift and effective international response to a possible bird-flu pandemic, including drugs stockpiling and vaccine development.

All but four of the more than 60 human deaths from bird flu since 2003—which were in Cambodia—have been recorded in Apec member countries, namely Thailand, Indonesia and worst-hit Vietnam.

Bush on China

Bush arrived in Busan late on Wednesday, fresh from a visit to Tokyo where he made a keynote speech praising Taiwan’s democratic progress and urging China to grant its people broader religious and political freedoms.

“The people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, and to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment. The efforts of China’s people to improve their society should be welcomed as part of China’s development,” said Bush.

“By meeting the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness, China’s leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation.”

Later on Wednesday, two female protesters were hauled away by police into a van outside Bush’s hotel, where a handful of people had gathered to shout slogans and unfurl banners.

“Bush, get out of here” read one banner, while another said “We oppose US expansion in Pyongtaek”, referring to the military base where the US plans to relocate the headquarters of its 32 000 troops in the country.

Apec leaders, including Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao, will attend a summit on Friday and Saturday at which they will endorse the ministers’ statement.

In further comments that did not sit well in Beijing, Bush hailed Taiwan as a democratic success story.
China considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification—by force, if necessary.

“Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous. By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society,” Bush said.

After the Apec summit concludes, Bush will continue his Asia tour with a visit to Beijing where he will meet Hu on Sunday.—AFP