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Western Press Review: China, The World's New Enigma

  • Don Hill



Prague, 9 April 1997 (RFE/RL) --Winston Churchill once called Russia a combination of riddle, mystery and enigma. Western press commentators in recent days have been describing China in similar terms.

POLITIKEN: China cannot conduct foreign policy based on pressure and threats

Denmark, with U.S. backing, has initiated a United Nations resolution condemning human rights practices in China, which has thus become a topic for commentary in the Scandinavian nation. Today's paper in Copenhagen suports editorially the evident determination of Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen to go ahead with the resolution despite lack of support from France, Germany and other European Union partners.

The paper says: "This is the right way to go morally and politically. (The resolution over time) will prove to be a viable exercise in realpolitik. Not only because more and more Chinese will in the coming years agree with us (in the West) and not with their undemocratic government but primarily because China must understand that it cannot afford to conduct foreign policy based on pressure and threats."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The West is mesmerized by the size of the Chinese market

Harald Maass comments in today's edition on what the newspaper calls China's "Whip and Carrot" approach to blunting human rights criticism. He writes from Hong Kong: "While EU foreign ministers meeting in the Netherlands were arguing over a joint resolution on China's abuse of human rights, Beijing announced that it would put its signature to a UN human rights agreement. Is this a step in the right direction? Rather to the contrary. For years China has been using a mixture of promises and threats to curb wide-ranging international criticism of its abuse of human rights."

Maass complains that the approach works, partly because of Western greed. He says: "The Chinese government has every reason to be optimistic, for Western countries have tried in vain for years to pressure it at the international level to improve the human rights situation." He writes: "As long as Western governments and businesses are mesmerized by the rapidly growing market of China's population of 1.2 billion, the government there obviously can afford to threaten critics as it likes. Little Denmark, which is planning to push through a joint European resolution in Geneva, was threatened by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman with a 'grave decline' in relations."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: China has courted smaller nations for favorable human rights votes

In an analysis today, Henry Chu also concludes that China's combined denials and promises are effective. Chu writes from Beijing: "In a move clearly meant to defuse an annual UN debate over its human rights record, China has announced it will sign one of two key human rights treaties by year's end, state-run media here said (yesterday). The announcement is expected to shore up China's position as it seeks to avoid censure before the UN Commission on Human Rights, now in session in Geneva."

Chu says: "Since the Tiananmen crackdown, China has spent millions of dollars courting smaller developing nations for favorable votes on the human rights issue as well as on other sensitive topics, such as blocking Taiwan's move toward independence from the mainland."

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. is creating a new enemy, China

Steven Erlanger contributed a news analysis to the Newspaper's Week in Review section Sunday. He said that a substantial bloc of U.S. thinkers is adopting China -- erroneously -- as the United States' new chosen enemy to succeed Russia.

Erlanger wrote: "A Soviet analyst, Georgi Arbatov, once warned that Mikhail Gorbachev was going to do something unforgiveable to the United States -- take away its enemy. But Mr. Arbatov underestimated U.S. ingenuity. In the last few months, a number of members of Congress, leading and following the opinion magazines and the think-tank symposia, have been working to invent a new enemy, China."

Erlanger wrote: "But does that reflect the real relationship between China and the United States? A number of powerful thinkers in Washington say it does not. They say the fears presume a hostile relationship largely because they overestimate Beijing's capacities while hardly looking at all at China's weaknesses and poverty."

He said: "And there is a big difference between acknowledging that the Chinese government behaves badly and believing that it represents a clear and present danger. Put another way, there is a difference between having faith that the United States will be strong enough to rein in China's ambitions and influence its behavior for some time to come, and fearing that China is already so implacable that America can only confront and contain it."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Continuity, not change, will characterize post-Deng politics

Charles Wolf is dean of the Rand Graduate School of Policy Studies and a corporate fellow in international economics at the Rand Institute in the United States. He commented yesterday that China is both consistent in its politics and changing in its economic and military posture. Wolf wrote: "Most discussions of life in China after Deng Xiaoping's death have focused on potential political and leadership changes. Chances are, however, that continuity, not change, will characterize post-Deng politics. Yet, there will be important changes with international consequences. Economic growth will slow, and military spending will rise, especially spending on military procurement and military research and development."

Wolf said: "In the eyes of China's policy-makers, and many of its intellectuals, peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region will be enhanced by a better balance of power among the United States, Japan and China. Currently, the Chinese believe that this balance is impaired because China is the weakest party in the relationship. Strengthening China's military power, along with consolidating its economic strength, will contribute to regional stability, rather than disturb it, they contend."

JOURNAL OF COMMERCE: Pity the Chinese statistician

China remains so secretive and mysterious that its communist government even lies to itself, Joe Studwell wrote yesterday in an analysis in the U.S. newspaper. Studwell said: "In the world of lies, damned lies and statistics, Chinese figures are often in a category of their own. Pity the Chinese statistician, laboring to make sense of his country's economy. Last week, it was the turn of Zhany Sai, director-general of the State Statistical Bureau, to deliver the yearly audit on the nation's economic and social development. Mr. Zhang frankly admitted that at a microlevel, official returns are blighted by 'exaggerations or false reporting."

U.S. Issue: Campaign Finance Reform



Campaign finance reform continues to fascinate commentators in the United States, if not their politicians.

NEW YORK TIMES: The nation yearns for abolition of a corrupt system

A New York Times/CBS News Poll this week offered what the newspaper called "a startling portrayal of a nation that, far from being indifferent, yearns for abolition of a system clearly viewed as corrupt." The Times said: "By ignoring such warnings, Congress deepens the public's already considerable disgust and cynicism."

NEWSDAY: Reform proposals are a predictable aftermath

Ross K. Baker explained the concern recently in the U.S. newspaper. He wrote: "One predictable aftermath of any American political scandal is an orgy of reform proposals."
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