By design, President Bush’s eight-day trip to Asia will have a high quotient of atmospherics – much to-ing and fro-ing between high-level meetings and posing with Asian leaders. The president is “not looking for any specific deliverables or specific outcomes,” said his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

That may be the White House way of lowering expectations, because Bush will be taking up serious issues with Chinese President Hu Jintao _ evening the one-sided balance of trade by convincing China to allow for more imports of U.S. goods, a free market rather than a regulated currency that exacerbates that imbalance, and the protection of intellectual property rights, about which China is notably lax.

And then there will be the usual presidential attempt to nudge Beijing on its human-rights record and its insistence on one-party government.

Hu likely will have a bone or two of his own to pick with Bush, notably Congress’ nasty overreaction to a since-aborted plan by a Chinese company to buy Unocal and its threat of punitive sanctions on imports of Chinese textiles. And the Chinese, now that their economy is finally booming, surely resent being portrayed as one of the bad guys regarding the soaring U.S. energy prices.

Considering the state of U.S.-China relations going back to the communist takeover after World War II, things are going remarkably well if these are the biggest issues between the two nations.

China, perhaps mindful of its own domestic failings and its less-than-lustrous record on Tibet, is a reliable vote on the U.N. Security Council against almost any kind of sanctions or intervention in another nation’s affairs. Thus, it was a welcome sea change in Chinese policy when the United States convinced Beijing to take the lead in six-party talks aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

Bush’s biggest accomplishment in his trip – also including Japan; South Korea, site of an Asian economic summit; and Mongolia – will be to convince Southeast Asians that we have not forgotten about that critical part of the world and that the United States is not so distracted by Iraq, and Bush by his falling political fortunes, that they are a fading priority. Atmospherics count.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)