Bush bids farewell with impassioned 'freedom' plea
AFP - 1 hour 54 minutes ago
LIMA (AFP) - - US President George W. Bush, bidding farewell to the international stage, offered a sweeping defense of free markets as leaders from across the Pacific rim vowed to resist protectionism.
Bush and 20 other leaders meeting in Peru echoed a pledge last week from a summit in Washington promising not to erect new barriers to free trade for 12 months in hopes of lifting the ailing global economy.
On the last foreign trip before he hands the keys to the White House to Barack Obama, Bush held a final summit with Russia described as cordial but cool after months of rising tensions between the former Cold War foes.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, whose members account for half of world trade and include fast-growing China, issued a joint statement denouncing any drift to protectionism in the economic crisis.
The pledge came after Bush staunchly defended his controversial eight-year presidency, summing up his philosophy as "free markets, free trade and free people."
"I believe there is an Almighty and I believe a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth is freedom," Bush said.
A smiling Bush, peppering his remarks with Spanish, conceded that recent events showed that governments must sometimes intervene in markets.
The Bush administration led a 700 billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street in hopes the US economy would rebound from its worst crisis since the Great Depression.
"Yet it is also essential that nations resist the temptation to overcorrect by imposing regulations that would stifle innovation and choke off growth," Bush said. "The verdict of history is unmistakable."
He vowed to press hard in his final two months in office to break a deadlock in World Trade Organization negotiations, a pledge made by 20 world leaders last week in Washington for a summit on the financial turmoil.
"We refuse to accept protectionism in the 21st century," Bush said emphatically.
Obama, despite his wild popularity around much of the world, has sparked concerns among some Asian leaders that he would take the United States in a protectionist direction.
"Nations must not regress toward protectionism by citing the current financial crisis," said President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea, whose currency has been hammered in recent weeks.
"Protectionism begets more protectionism and results in a further slowdown of the global economy," Lee said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gently chided other major economies that have intervened to prop up businesses and markets.
"As necessary as such actions may be in some countries, there should be a plan to unwind this kind of direct participation by governments in the banking business over the long term," Harper said.
Bush also focused on security, holding a three-way summit with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korea's Lee at which they demanded North Korea move forward in a slow-moving denuclearization pact.
Bush, who once branded North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," last year agreed to a six-nation deal under which the communist state would end its nuclear program in exchange for badly needed aid and security guarantees.
Bush has held out hope of a last-minute diplomatic triumph on North Korea. But Aso later told reporters that Bush said he was ready to hand over the issue to Obama.
Aso hailed Bush's eight-year presidency, saying he brought the Pacific allies closer together.
But Bush had a more frosty reception from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev . Russia has been angered by US plans to install a missile defense shield in the former Soviet bloc.
The White House described the meeting as a "cordial, but honest and direct exchange," language typically used by diplomats to describe a tense encounter.
"Both presidents noticed that differences remain in our relations but there was a unanimous wish, and President Bush said this, not to get hung up on such problems that always exist between big powers," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
Lavrov said that Bush's presidency had shown the holes in the so-called "Pax Americana" after the Soviet Union's collapse.
"Now it's quite clear that even such a powerful country as the United States can't deal with global challenges alone," he said.
Bush was also dogged on his last trip by protesters. Some 300 leftist students marched to the US ambassador's residence in Lima, chanting that Bush was a "fascist" and demanding he be put on trial for alleged war crimes.
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