Tokyo — Presented for the first time on the world stage, President Bush's less-restrictive, business-friendly plan to address global warming received a cool reception Monday from Japanese leaders, who have been strong advocates of the Kyoto Protocol.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi described as positive Bush's plan to link regulation of greenhouse gases to economic growth, but he indicated that it was not an acceptable substitute for the international treaty.
"Japan welcomes the positive proposal on global environment issue, and we appreciate the stance shown by the United States to contribute on that front," Koizumi said during a news conference with Bush on Monday. "And we'll expect greater efforts in that respect."
Bush angered European and Asian allies shortly after taking office a year ago when he announced that the United States had no intention of signing the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty with 178 signatory nations that would regulate the emission of climate-altering greenhouse gases.
Bush said the treaty would have been too costly for U.S. businesses while allowing developing countries, including India and China, to escape similar regulation.
Last week, on the eve of his departure for a six-day tour of Asia, Bush unveiled his substitute plan, which is designed to give U.S. businesses much greater flexibility in reducing their emissions than the Kyoto rules. Bush's plan ties environmental controls to economic growth so pollution restrictions can be loosened during downturns.
U.S. environmentalists complained that Bush's plan not only is less effective than Kyoto in combating global warming but also would allow more pollution than existing U.S. environmental laws.
Koizumi's cool reaction to Bush's plan is telling in that the prime minister is both a critic of Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto pact and, at the moment, particularly solicitous of Bush. It indicates that despite Bush's heightened standing among world leaders impressed with his efforts to fight terrorism, leaders still resent what they see as Bush's go-it-alone attitude on foreign policy.
Koizumi said that he and other supporters of the Kyoto Protocol had been mindful of the need to balance economic concerns with environmental protection when they formulated the treaty, saying, "I certainly understand the circumstances in the United States."
He also made clear, however, that he wants Bush to get much tougher on U.S. polluters.
"Both the economy and the environment can be improved together," Koizumi said. "And we'd like to see further efforts on the part of the United States.
"It is a question for the United States to decide whether to take part in the protocol or not," Koizumi said. "But I hope we will continue with our efforts so that we can move in the same direction."
During his two days in Japan, Bush said little publicly about environmental issues. When a reporter tried to ask Koizumi whether "the world's environment would have been better off if America had signed on to Kyoto," Bush interrupted to say, "The ... question is moot."
Bush's aides downplayed Koizumi's initial reaction to the substitute U.S. plan.
"I don't think there is nearly as big a gap with respect to our views on climate change as a lot of people would like to proclaim that there is," one senior Bush administration official said on condition of anonymity. "We're both interested in market-based solutions to a huge problem."
While thousands turned out recently in Sweden, Italy and elsewhere to protest Bush's environmental policies, waving signs declaring him "The Toxic Texan," demonstrations in Japan were limited to much smaller and less visible groups.
At a small demonstration Monday near the U.S. Embassy where Bush was staying, environmentalists demanded that Bush sign the Kyoto protocol.