President Bush will face many opportunities and dangers when he visits Asia next week. Some of his words at home already have caught the world's attention and will follow him on his travels to China, South Korea and Japan. His inclusion of North Korea in an "axis of evil" and his statement that the United States will do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan clearly resonate in Asia.
This trip, however, affords the president a chance to reinforce his important messages to doubters at home and abroad in a historically significant context.
His first priority doubtless will be the global campaign against terrorism. North Korea already is seen as recklessly dispensing weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. The president surely will not back away from publicly restating his concerns about that threat and his intentions to address it.
But as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said in defending Bush's vivid State of the Union language, there are other countries in the axis. Russia and China are the world's worst proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and missiles, with North Korea, Iraq and Iran among their customers.
In his own folksy way, President Bush can deliver a serious message and challenge Chinese President Jiang Zemin to line up fully on the civilized world's side against terrorism. That means China must finally stop allowing Chinese companies to sell dangerous technology to states that engage in or sponsor terrorism.
Bush could also remind Jiang that although Washington welcomes Beijing's cooperation in the anti-terrorism effort, limited as it has been, the U.S. does not equate all who struggle for greater civil and political rights in any country with the terrorists who use violence to achieve their ends, particularly against innocent civilians.
Bush also should seek direct, uncensored access to the Chinese people, either through a formal televised address or by live coverage of an event similar to President Reagan's memorable speech to Russian students.
If given the opportunity, the president could start by telling China and the world what U.S. policy is not: We do not see China as an inevitable enemy or seek to contain its economic development or rise to power on the world stage. U.S. policies ranging from President Nixon's opening to China's recent accession to the World Trade Organization have vigorously encouraged and supported those trends.
The U.S. does not seek the breakup or disintegration of the Chinese state. We support stability in China and the region consistent with economic and political advancement.
The U.S. would support any resolution of the Taiwan question that is achieved peacefully, without coercion and in accordance with the wishes of the people of Taiwan. As long as China insists on deploying missiles to threaten Taiwan, the U.S. will pursue a regional missile defense system to protect against that and other threats (i.e., North Korea).
The United States will never abandon its moral and political commitment to the cause of democracy and human rights. The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees them, and no civilization, no matter how ancient, can long deny or resist that feature of the modern world. The people of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have demonstrated that Asian values can coexist with human rights.
The world has changed dramatically since Nixon's historic trip 30 years ago--the anniversary China wants to celebrate with the Bush visit. But one thing has not changed since the tragic days of Mao Tse-tung: the virulent anti-American tone in so much official and quasi-official Chinese literature. By maintaining a simmering level of aggrieved nationalism, the government can exploit it at times of tension, such as the embassy bombing in Belgrade and the spy plane incident in 2001.
If we are not to view China as an enemy, we have a right to expect China's reciprocation. Speaking plainly on these matters can strengthen the hands of the moderates in China and advance the cause of peace and democracy in Asia. That would be a signal achievement for any traveling American president.