WASHINGTON, Aug 2,(AFP) - US President George W. Bush leaves on a three-nation trip to Asia on Monday to share the Olympic fever and discuss trade, human rights and the denuclearization of North Korea.
After visiting South Korea and Thailand, Bush will attend the Olympics' opening ceremony in Beijing after rejecting repeated calls by activists to boycott the Games over China's human rights record.
His attendance at the Olympics will test his vow to keep politics out of the Games.
"I made a decision not to politicize the Games; this is for athletics," Bush, who will be in China between August 7-11, said on Wednesday. "There's plenty of time for politics, and I'm confident I'll have time for politics."
A sports fanatic, Bush will attend a basketball game between the star-studded US team and China and his schedule is unusually flexible, apparently to allow him to follow competitions.
He also plans to ride his mountain bike on the Olympic trail and said he was not concerned about the pollution affecting him.
But with the world's eyes watching the Olympics, human rights groups and US lawmakers hope the US leader will use the event to push Chinese leaders to give more freedom to their people.
Bush has insisted that he raises the human rights question every time he speaks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and the two are scheduled to hold talks.
He has angered China by becoming the first US president to appear publicly alongside Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and recently meeting with leading exiled Chinese dissidents.
During his visit to Beijing, he plans to make public remarks on religious freedom after attending a Christian service. The administration has not ruled out the possibility of a meeting with dissidents in China.
Bush, who has acknowledged that US-Chinese relations are complex, treads a delicate diplomatic rope with the Asian powerhouse.
The United States is increasingly dependent on China to reduce a 21 billion dollar bilateral trade deficit, take down international trade barriers, convince North Korea to give up nuclear weapons and combat global warming.
The denuclearization of North Korea, which agreed to disarm in a six-nation pact, will figure prominently during Bush's visit to South Korea on Tuesday and Wednesday.
His ninth trip to Asia will coincide with the final days of a key date in efforts to disarm Pyongyang.
Bush announced in June his intention to remove North Korea from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism in 45 days, a timeline that ends August 11.
But the administration said the communist regime cannot be removed from the list unless it agrees to a comprehensive protocol verifying its atomic program.
"We're at a very critical moment now for the North Korean government to make a decision as to whether or not they're going to verify what they said they would do," Bush recently said in an interview with Chinese television.
"It's one thing to say it, but I think it's going to be very important for them to understand that we expect them to show us," he said.
US officials, however, said August 11 was not a deadline. Dennis Wilder, a top Bush aide on Asian affairs, told reporters on Wednesday that North Korea would merely miss out on a "first opportunity" to be taken off the list.
"The window for doing this remains open," Wilder said.
During his visit to Bangkok on Thursday, Bush will make a speech likely defending the policies of his seven-year-old administration and discussing US relations with Asia beyond his presidency, which ends in January.