‘China power growing as Bush ignores Asia’

US President George W Bush is so preoccupied with Iraq he is neglecting Asia and allowing China to take a greater leadership role, a former senior US official said in remarks published on Monday.

“In every measure, China is making real hay right throughout Asia,” Richard Armitage, Bush’s former deputy secretary of state told The Australian newspaper in an interview.

“Right now, we’re just so preoccupied with Iraq that we’re ignoring Asia totally.”

Bush is cutting short his attendance at a major Asia-Pacific summit in Sydney this weekend to return to Washington in time for reports to Congress on progress in Iraq by top US general David Petraeus.

Armitage also criticised Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for skipping two out of three annual meetings which bring the US together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Bush administration had radically underestimated the importance of Asia, he said.

“In almost every measure, military budgets, population growths, the need for raw materials, our interests will force us back to Asia.”

Armitage said there was a danger of Chinese leadership in Asia surpassing that of the US.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of Bush’s Iraq policy, was reportedly bitterly disappointed that the US president will miss the second day of the two-day summit.

In an attempt to make amends, Bush has extended his state visit ahead of the APEC summit.