U.S. job losses cloud Bush's trip to Asia

Posted: Sunday, October 12, 2003

WASHINGTON A nine-day trip to Asia and Australia might seem a welcome respite to President Bush, who is being rebuffed by European powers and hounded by criticism at home over Iraq, a CIA-leak investigation and a weak economy.

But even across the Pacific, some difficult issues will pursue him, including the loss of millions of U.S. jobs.

To many in the United States, China and other low-wage Asian countries are prime culprits in the snatching of jobs from American workers. With Democratic presidential candidates making noises about this issue, it is sure to factor prominently on the campaign trail next year.

As Bush travels through Asia, he faces the challenge of a political balancing act: addressing domestic concerns mindful of his audience back home while trying to placate foreign hosts who want more trade and economic concessions from Washington in exchange for their help fighting terrorism.

''It's a tough assignment. He has to try to appeal to both audiences,'' said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

''He's got to be a strong advocate of the American economy, and he's got to go forward with open trade, and of course he's going to have to stress terrorism and weapons nonproliferation,'' said Hamilton, a former chair of the House International Relations Committee.

The president's trip, which begins Wednesday, takes him to Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia.

He will meet with Chinese leaders in Bangkok, Thailand, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which runs from Oct. 20-23.

The trip partly is to thank leaders who have backed Bush on Iraq. Notable among them are Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Japanese President Junichuro Koizumi.

Bush also hopes to win new financial and military support for the U.S.-led anti-terrorism efforts in a region that is home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies as well as groups with links to al-Qaida.

Bush will also have to address the menace of North Korea's nuclear program and a recent escalation of tensions between China and Taiwan.

On the economic homefront, Bush and Congress are under pressure to do something, given the loss of some 3.2 million jobs since January 2001 and China's soaring trade surplus with the United States.

Lawmakers from both parties accuse China of keeping its currency artificially low to favor Chinese companies and of not abiding by market-opening commitments Beijing made when it joined the World Trade Organization two years ago.

There are moves to impose tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing does not change its ways.

''These are extremely difficult economic times. More than 9 million Americans are without jobs,'' said Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services subcommittee on monetary policy.

''In this environment, it is understandable that concern would focus on a country that utilizes an artificial peg to maintain a set exchange rate with the U.S. dollar,'' Maloney said.

Treasury Secretary John Snow, who was in Beijing in early September, urged the Chinese to stop rigidly controlling its currency rate. Administration officials say the president may make a similar appeal when he meets with Chinese leaders.

''I'm a free trader, but I'm also a fair trader. And I believe our manufacturing sector, for example, must be treated fairly in foreign markets,'' Bush said during a Cabinet meeting last week.

Given the sensitivity of the jobs issue and calls for a harder line on China, this may not be the best time politically for Bush to be in Asia, suggested James Thurber, an American University political scientist.

''In fact it may hurt him in the middle of a Democratic race for the nomination to have him over there,'' Thurber said.

Bush keeps trying to avoid repeating his father's mistakes, but seems to keep getting drawn along the same path.

The first President Bush who saw his war-driven popularity dissipate in an economic downturn went to Asia just as 1992 primary season was heating up. His trip, in which he became ill during a banquet in Tokyo, drew sharp criticism from Democrats who accused him of globe-trotting with U.S. trading rivals while ignoring stubborn unemployment at home.

Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.

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