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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 12:27 GMT
Diary: Bush's Asian tour
US President George W Bush is paying an eight-day visit to Asia, a trip which has included a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

The BBC's Adam Brookes - who is travelling with the president - is keeping a diary for the BBC News website.

21 NOVEMBER ULAN BATOR, MONGOLIA 1700 (0900 GMT)

I can almost hear the White House wincing.

Images of President Bush trying to leave that press briefing back in Beijing have been transmitted around the world - and of course back to the US.

President Bush makes a face as he tries to leave locked door
President Bush was lampooned in the US press for his botched exit

That's the incident where he tries to get out of the briefing room through a locked door.

It seems almost spiteful but the vast press pack - the "uber pack" - agrees that they are great pictures.

As the press plane comes in on its approach, Ulan Bator lies beneath us in a pall of smoke.

The Central Asian landscape is brown and wintry, creased by frozen rivers, with low hills carrying a dusting of snow.

Just before we land I glimpse Mongolian soldiers guarding the airport perimeter.

Hundreds of them are placed a few feet apart as far as the eye can see.

The "uber pack" is quiet as we drive in to the city.

There are murmured exclamations at the decrepitude of the Soviet-era apartment blocks and the throat-searing pollution.

We have left brash eastern Asia and now we are seeing the claw marks of European communism.

Mr Bush is here for only a few hours: his visit is a reward for Mongolia's support on Iraq, with its tiny contingent of troops there.

Two Mongolian sergeants are being much feted by the administration for shooting and killing a man driving a truck bomb.

But Mongolia has appeal for Mr Bush beyond its Iraq policy.

Here the people threw off communism and embraced democracy and a version of a free market.

The 2.5 million Mongolians embody the Bush vision, and that too is reason for the visit.

Mr Bush meets with President Enkheayar in a nomad felt tent and in his speech to parliament Mr Bush is fulsome in his praise.

He likens Mongolia's transition to democracy to what is happening in Iraq.

Later he is treated to a sort of spectacle - traditional costume, yak and camel - and a short visit with a nomadic family specially shipped in from the steppe.

"It's really special," he says, and he looks energised.

After four hours he heads back to Air Force One and takes off for America.

The Asia trip is over.

The "uber pack" is enjoying itself and devouring the souvenir store.

Our Mongolian hosts are smiling and courteous. They seem genuinely pleased to see us.

I am very, very tired.

I leave the "uber pack", step from the filing centre onto the street for a few minutes to people-watch.

It's five degrees below zero. A little girl in felt boots and blue silk robe and sash is dawdling on the pavement.

She gawps at me, laughs and beams.

I beam back and feel my spirits lift.

20 NOVEMBER CHINA WORLD HOTEL, BEIJING 2000 (1200 GMT)

President Bush and President Hu step to the podium after their talks.

US President George W Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao
Mr Bush and Mr Hu come from vastly different backgrounds
Mr Hu speaks for a crisp 18 minutes - a litany of commitments on the trade imbalance, the currency, copyright protection, avian flu and more. There is not a single specific breakthrough or new agreement.

But the language is good, and there is no serious divergence on anything except on political and religious freedoms. Even here Mr Hu calmly nudges away Mr Bush's urging.

Mr Bush looks like he is on his way to a funeral. He sounds tired, almost offhand. He speaks for a little over four minutes. He repeats his calls for political and religious liberalisation.

White House officials tell us that the meetings went well, despite the lack of tangible progress.

They say that the ice is slowly being broken between the Presidents. It seems Mr Hu is loosening up a little, speaking less from prepared statements and interacting more.

I find it hard to envisage the gap between these two men ever being bridged on a personal level. Mr Bush: the Ivy League C-student, privileged, a gladhander and consensus builder.

Mr Hu: the consummate party operator, the ambitious engineering student who came to maturity during the Cultural Revolution and cut his political teeth in remote, poor Gansu.

President George W Bush on a mountain bike ride in China
Mr Bush rebuffed accusations by reporters that he was 'off his game'
When it's time for his mountain bike ride, Mr Bush perks up.

He arrives at an Olympic training facility. He is wearing shorts. Six orange-clad Chinese Olympic cyclists wait for him.

They all pose for photos on their bikes, and Mr Bush clowns for the cameras, speeding towards the photographers and veering away at the last minute. Then they take off round the course.

Later, Mr Bush meets the "travel pool" - a group that splinters from the uber-pack to dog his every move.

He is much more animated. America's relationship with China is "big and complex". China has "undergone an amazing transformation". But a "freer economy will yield a freer political system".

This is one of the president's core beliefs, in plain view on this trip: when a state liberalises its economy, political liberalisation will inevitably follow.

This belief obviates the need to confront the Chinese leadership. Economic liberalisation is underway in China. Ergo, political liberalisation is only a matter of time. The die is cast.

A reporter asks why he seemed so subdued earlier at his appearance with Mr Hu. The reporter suggests he was "off his game".

"Have you ever heard of jet lag?" Mr Bush fires back. He then ends the meeting by striding purposefully away towards a door - which turns out to be locked. An aide shepherds him out.

The event tonight is a "social dinner" with President Hu - very brief and much less fancy than a state affair.

Tomorrow will take us to Mongolia, one of America's favourite small democracies.

20 NOVEMBER GANGWASHI CHURCH, BEIJING 1000 (0200 GMT)

The Beijing winter is smelt as much as felt, the air sulphurous from coal burning stoves.

The uber-pack staggers into the China World hotel in the early hours of the morning.

We must wait for the security sweep - one X-ray machine for more than a hundred hacks and their equipment. But the luxury of the rooms soothes the pack's jangled nerves.

Sunday morning, and the president worships at the Gangwashi church.

President Bush with the choir and officials of Gangwashi Church in Beijing
Mr Bush's visit was a skilful bit of manoeuvring

Gangwashi is administered by the "3-self" church - the state-controlled mechanism for regulating the Protestant denomination.

But a White House official insists: "It's a real church, where people really do worship."

As he emerges from the service, the president is hymned by a tentative choir of Chinese Christians.

Mr Bush says the spirit of the Lord is strong inside the church. China's leaders should not fear Christians coming together in worship. Healthy societies allow freedom of worship of all faiths.

Mr Bush is deft. By going to Gangwashi, he acknowledges that Chinese Christians have churches in which to worship - and thus reassures the Beijing leadership.

But he also uses the church as a platform from which to press for greater religious freedoms, and to burnish his credentials with his base at home.

Plainclothes security officers outside the church photograph and video the White House reporters - presumably to catch any unwanted interaction with local Christians.

It's the usual reminder that the limits of religious activity in China are delineated by the anquanbu - the state security apparatus - always.

19 NOVEMBER BLACK CAT HANGAR, OSAN AIR BASE, SOUTH KOREA 2000 (1100 GMT)

Osan Air Base sprawls in the wintry brown Korean landscape.

The president has stopped here to address the troops.

The uber-pack is swept for security and installed in a hangar with phones and wi-fi. We spend a total of seven hours here. The networks need to file for the early morning shows stateside.

Bush addresses troops at Osan
The president dismissed the criticism being aired at home

Hundreds of Air Force personnel wait for their Commander in Chief wrapped in camouflage windbreakers against the chill. An unsmiling sergeant doles out hot chocolate.

A gleaming F-16 fighter sits on the tarmac as a backdrop; next to it, an A-10 Warthog, the slow, vicious ground attack aircraft beloved of the American infantryman.

President Bush takes the stage to a thunderous reception. Again, we see him breathe it in like oxygen.

His speech is mostly war on terror boilerplate. But there's a swipe at Congressional critics who are stirring it up on Iraq.

"In Washington, there are some who say that the sacrifice is too great and they urge us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission."

The president quotes a general who believes that setting a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq would be "a recipe for disaster". He is emphatic that it's too early to pull out.

John Murtha, a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, is the critic of the moment. He has described the Iraq effort as "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion", and has called for withdrawal.

Why should Mr Bush care about a lone Democrat? Because Murtha is a decorated veteran, a hawk, and he previously supported the war. Most importantly, he's seen as close to the military. Is Murtha speaking for the army? Some in Washington think so.

As the president's speech wears on, I can't be sure, but I think the bursts of applause are becoming less frequent. On the Iraq passages, the clapping seems more restrained - polite rather than tumultuous.

One final observation: in the advance version of the speech was this line: "We will fight the terrorists in Iraq, we stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory our troops have fought and bled for."

When the President delivered the speech, "and bled" had been taken out.

18 NOVEMBER BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA 1700 (0800 GMT)

The first day of summitry is over.

Protesters numbering in the thousands have been in the streets. Their signs read "Smash Apec!" and "Kick out Bush!"

Many of them are Korean farmers who say their livelihoods are disappearing as cheap rice imports undermine them.

Korean woman holding up dish of kimchi
The perks of being a world statesman.... kimchi for dinner

The police have turned their hoses on them, but it seems quite tame stuff by Korean standards.

President Bush has held a meeting with Vladimir Putin, the contents of which remain largely a mystery.

And in an odd episode, the South Korean Defence Ministry has chosen this moment to announce that it intends to reduce its troop presence in Iraq by a third. This, a day after Presidents Bush and Roh stood side by side proclaiming solidarity over Iraq.

The White House didn't seem to know it was coming.

"There has been no official communication to the United States of a change of position by the South Korean government," was the line.

Now, the leaders are heading for their hotels to ready themselves for the "Gala Dinner and Cultural Performance."

Ah yes, the menu. Scallop and ginseng salad. Chestnut porridge. Beef with pine mushrooms.

Kimchi, the sinus-shattering pickled cabbage.

And a rice wine flavoured with mushrooms - which the teetotal president will presumably avoid.

Saturday will see the uber-pack leave Busan early.

We will miss what must be one of the most mawkish moments of global statesmanship - all 21 Apec leaders must don an article of national dress from the host country. Then they all stand together and have their photo taken.

Here in Busan they will wear the durumagi, a sort of Korean coat decorated with "ancient Korean symbols".

"It's a race between the president and Putin to see who can take it off first", said one White House official.

18 NOVEMBER BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA 0915 (0015 GMT)

Escape!

Last night, I broke free of the bubble and proceeded to dinner in downtown Busan.

The glossy Apec briefing books blathers about Busan's "vision" of becoming a "dynamic international city by developing global fishery logistics".

Busan from the sea
Busan is overflowing with journalists this week
"What you do, eat and see: Everything is enjoyable!"

From the window of my cab, the city is chill, grey and gritty - shipping containers stacked for miles, blistering neon along shadowy concrete wharves. Asian modernity.

I join a wonderfully polyglot group of BBC colleagues - British, Korean, Australian, Singaporean, Thai.

The meal was a little too polyglot. Korean raw fish seems to lack the refinement of sushi. The chopped octopus squirmed on the plate. For hours.

There are apparently 2,000 journalists in town - Busan is pressed to cope. Many are staying in "love hotels" - back alley shops of convenience for temporary liaisons.

This morning, back in the filing centre, Apec is in full, mind-bending flow.

President Bush is in meetings all day: Asean leaders, Putin, Apec leaders, business leaders. Much talk, but no centre to it. Crafting a news line is all but impossible.

The uber-pack doesn't really care. A senior Congressman, John Murtha, a Democrat but a hawk, has called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. The White House professes to be "baffled".

17 NOVEMBER BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA 1400 (0500 GMT)

The uber-pack of travelling White House correspondents pours into the Busan hotel at midnight. It's gloomy and cramped and the pack looks sullen.

There's business with Apec accreditations, and then sleep - blissful, unadulterated hours of it.

President Bush (left) in talks with Korean President Roh Moo-hyun
The US press pack lapped up Bush's attack of Democrats
The morning is rumoured to be chill and bright, but in the digital flicker of the filing centre, hunched over our green baize tables, we know little of the outside.

The breakfast buffet is glutinous and cold, and correspondents show signs of petulance. A rumour spreads of a bug found in a croissant.

The story today is a struggle. President Bush goes on a bicycle ride. Much is made of this.

Mr Bush is holding talks with South Korea's President Roh in Gyeongju, a long, tiresome bus journey away. Most of the radio reporters have elected to stay in Busan and listen to the press conference piped in. They compete to avoid using the term "Doha round" in their stories.

But the uber-pack is reverting to its truest self, and domestic American politics is drowning out anything the Asia story has to offer.

The Senate, restive over Iraq, has demanded greater oversight of the conduct of the war. An Iraqi interior ministry compound has been found to contain badly abused detainees.

So the pack waits for crumbs from the US president, and is gratified when, in a joint press briefing with President Roh, Mr Bush lashes out at Senate Democrats.

Otherwise, the presidents have talked mainly about North Korea, and what to do with it. They pile the pressure on Pyongyang to start dismantling its nuclear programmes. The tone is very formal - Asian diplomacy talk: "the two leaders shared a common understanding" - as glutinous as the buffet.

Very different to an impassioned President Bush in Japan on Wednesday, when he called North Korea isolated, backward and brutal, with "prison camps the size of cities" revealed by America's spy satellites.

The uber-pack is temporarily sated. Nobody can pronounce Gyeongju.

16 NOVEMBER KYOTO, JAPAN 2130 (1230 GMT)

The day passes in a blur of activity. The president's speech has a surprise in it. Mr Bush talks about the need for democratisation throughout Asia - the central theme of his foreign policy, even his world view, coming through.

But he dwells at length on the need for political liberalisation in China. In forthright language, he calls on China's leaders - hard-bitten veterans of the Cultural Revolution - to allow greater political freedom.

George Bush in Kyoto - 16/11/05
Mr Bush, showing his faith is strong

The president singles out the freedom of worship and the freedom to print bibles. He is speaking to China, but he is also, I think, speaking to key Republican supporters back home: the evangelical churches for whom Chinese communism is a godless aberration.

And President Bush is only as good as his faith is strong and public.

You can almost hear the wheels turning in Beijing as they calculate how to handle all this. My guess is they won't react sharply, however galling they find Mr Bush's words.

Diplomacy will probably trump disdain.

And then it is all over. Air force One lifted off for South Korea, and the press pack follows to the airport, buses moving stop-start through the frenzied neon of the Kyoto night.

15 NOVEMBER KYOTO, JAPAN 0830 (2230 GMT)

The buffet in the Kyoto filing centre is serving breakfast, so it must be morning.

Kyoto's press centre
Life inside the "bubble"

My body clock has been vandalised. I spent much of the night awake and wired in my room, watching sumo wrestling on TV - Koto-oshu, a Bulgarian star, swatting his opponents out of the ring; the Japanese crowd half-awed, half resentful at this foreign interloper.

At about 0500 local time (2000 GMT) I caught some BBC World. An earnest academic talked about the pack mentality in contemporary journalism, and what a disservice it does.

"A story," she said, "is just what some other journalist already has."

And here I sit in the pack of packs, the uber-pack of journalism, the travelling White House press corps, drip-fed.

The handlers have just come around with an advance copy of President Bush's keynote speech.

He's not due to deliver it for hours, but it seems the White House wants it to make the US early evening TV bulletins, so they've given it out early.

So now I must read it and file a story.

15 NOVEMBER KYOTO, JAPAN 1400 (0500 GMT)

To accompany an American President as he travels is to enter a disconnected world - it's called "the bubble", and it's a logistical marvel.

US President George W Bush and his wife, Laura, at Osaka's International airport, Japan
Mr Bush kicked-off his tour with a visit to Japan

On Sunday evening the travelling press corps - 100 or so strong - assembles at Andrews Air Force base, just south-east of Washington.

In the neon-lit passenger terminal, the White House handlers shepherd us. We have handed over our passports to them, and thus surrendered our autonomy for the duration.

TV crews wrestle with their gear. Reporters pore over handhelds. Producers bark into cell phones, and the atmosphere turns raucous.

The regular White House correspondents know the drill, and move easily through the chaos.

Those of us new to the bubble clutch distractedly at credentials and crumpled schedules. I worry I'll miss something and get left behind.

But I don't. The press plane is a United Airlines 747 chartered to trail Air Force One.

The reception on board is lavish, and White House handlers distribute thick briefing books.

The books contain every fact and figure the White House considers we will need during the coming trip to East Asia and the Apec summit.

As much as 30% of the Thai banking sector's outstanding loans are non-performing. South Korea's President was bullied in school. Mongolian foreign policy favours a balanced approach. Well, then.

Monday disappears, eaten up by the flight: 15 hours of darkness, right over the top of the world.

And Tuesday's dawn finds us speeding from Osaka's international airport to Kyoto - the highway cutting a swathe through industrial Japan, the factories dark and shuttered.

We have arrived in Kyoto before the president, and are now installed in the "filing centre".

A hotel ballroom has been wired for radio, TV, and internet. To each news organisation, a desk and phone.

I sit behind Chosun Ilbo, the Korean daily, and next to Persian radio.

The utterances of President Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi will be piped in on TV screens.

A buffet replenishes itself continually, morphing seamlessly from breakfast into lunch. There's no need to leave here.

Everything is provided for us, and every step of the next week and more has been choreographed down to the minute.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See George W Bush have trouble with his exit strategy


See George W Bush on his visit to China



SEE ALSO:
US urges Chinese political reform
16 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Bush embarks on East Asian tour
15 Nov 05 |  Americas


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