Bush forges 'historic' friendship in China

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The Independent US

China has not hosted such an august gathering of foreign leaders since the days of the Tang Dynasty 1,300 years ago, some Chinese proudly say, but the economic summit that brought them here, in new Shanghai, has been hijacked by the war on terrorism.

Yesterday US President George Bush spent the first of the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum securing support for his global coalition. Amid a flurry of bilateral meetings with counterparts from APEC's 21 member states, Bush told businessmen from the Asia-Pacific region that the suicide attacks of September 11 were an "attack on all civilised countries".

Citing the casualties suffered by APEC members, including at least 30 Chinese citizens and 21 Indonesians, the president stressed that America and APEC "share common enemies and common goals" in this fight. While the State Department insists progress has been made in technical co-operation this past week in Shanghai, APEC leaders will today release a watered-down joint declaration against terrorism.

To accommodate APEC's Muslim members, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, the declaration will mention neither Osama bin Laden nor the ongoing strikes against Afghanistan. After meeting yesterday with Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamad, who has called for an end to the bombing, Mr Bush commented: "He is concerned about the deaths of innocent people in Afghanistan and I assured him I am, too."

After meeting Chinese President Jiang Zemin on Friday, and winning his qualified support for the airstrikes, Mr Bush yesterday enjoyed fulsome support from the Japanese and South Korean leaders. Despite Jiang's reservations, this is the first time since the end of the Cold War that Beijing has supported any US military intervention overseas. Today, Mr Bush wraps up his visit by meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Addressing fears among human rights groups that the new foreign policy focus of the US lends carte blanche to China and Russia to suppress dissent in Tibet, Xinjiang, Chechnya and elsewhere, Bush said yesterday that "no government should target ethnic minorities" and religious groups under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

Yet the current global battle is smoothing normally rocky Sino-US relations. "Fighting terrorism together provides a good opportunity for China and the US to improve their relationship," Professor Shen Dingli, head of Fudan University's American Studies Centre, told the Independent on Sunday.

Mr Bush was served a reminder of the old fault lines when the Malaysian Prime Minister struck a discordant note with a broadside against globalisation, yet today he will join his fellow leaders in signing the Shanghai Accord, aimed at promoting the liberalisation of trade and investment, APEC's traditional territory when the world is not on a war footing.