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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 13:42 GMT
Bush's Asian tour calms fears
President Bush and Chinas President Jiang Zemin shake hands at the end of press conference
President Bush's diplomatic skills are put to the test
test hello test

By Paul Reynolds
BBC world affairs correspondent
President Bush's trip to Japan, South Korea and China was calmer and less confrontational than some had feared.

Mr Bush avoided using the phrase "axis of evil," with which he is very pleased, but which has worried certain American allies, including South Korea whose policy is to talk to the North Koreans.

North Korea, Iran and Iraq and their "terrorist" networks had been named by Mr Bush as making up the axis.

Mr Bush has not retreated from his determined stance in his war on terror, but it is evident that he can vary his language to suit the audience.

President Bush gives a speech at Tsinghua University
President Bush: Less confrontational language
And he got across the other themes of modern American diplomacy - freedom of religion and expression, strong defence, liberal economic policies. It worked for President Reagan and President Bush is giving it another run.

But by varying language, you can vary the message. What people want to know is what kind of action the United States intends to take against the "axis of evil". After this trip, it is still unclear.

Indeed, in South Korea, Mr Bush said outright that the US wanted peace, not war, in the Korean peninsula.

Words of support

There would be no invasion of the north. This means, to vary the usual phrase, a continuation of war by other means, in this case diplomatic and financial pressure and inducement.

There had been worry about China as well. Not long ago, Washington and Beijing were making mutual accusations over the midair collision between an American surveillance plane and a China fighter.

And that followed the blazing row over the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war.

In the event, there were differences with China, but no rows.

And during the whole trip, the semantically challenged President made only one gaffe (getting mixed up between devaluation and deflation, a slip which saw the yen dip for a time). But by now, I suppose, the world has got used to these Bushisms.

The visit will have helped to change Mr Bush's image as a gun-toting Texas cowboy

If Japan and South Korea are upset about the "axis of evil" approach, they did not show it. The Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi praised Mr Bush for his "calm and cautious" policy. Maybe that was also a hint that the Americans should indeed be calm and cautious but it set the tone for the visit.

In turn, Mr Bush spoke of Mr Koizumi, who is in deep political trouble, in a supportive way.

Leaders have to on these kinds of visits. It would be rude to your host otherwise, and you want others to do the same for you. But there was also a hint that the Japanese should do more to get their finances in order, with the President talking of Mr Koizumi's "bold agenda".

In South Korea, the President peered through binoculars into one part of the axis of evil and spoke, as Ronald Reagan did at the Berlin Wall once ("Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall". A lot of people laughed then, as well), of his hopes that the fences and minefields would one day all be gone.

And whatever his private reservations, the Korean President Kim Dae Jung made no public criticism of Mr Bush's forthright position towards North Korea.

Sophisticated arguments

The Chinese President Jiang Zemin had obviously decided that this time round, it was time to be nice to the Americans.

President and Mrs Bush
The president made just one gaffe
The two sides had been in confrontation; now it was a moment for rapprochement. The two had in common their joint rejection of international terrorism.

China itself has been having problems with Islamic fundamentalism in its far west and, coming from an atheist philosophy, has no interest in religious fanaticism.

Mr Bush was discreet about his statement during the American election that China was not really a strategic partner but a strategic competitor.

The visit will have helped to change Mr Bush's image in various parts of the world as a gun-toting Texas cowboy. To those who know him, he never was, of course. But not everyone was convinced.

By showing greater sophistication during this delicate Asia venture, he might have done something to diminish the belief that his policies are "simplistic".

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