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Western Press Review: The Asian Sickness Is Catching

  • Don Hill

Prague, 24 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Washington Post headlines an editorial today, "The Asian Contagion," commenting on the growing economic turbulence in Asia that has followed a run on Thailand's currency last July. Other Western press commentary today and over the weekend takes up the theme.

WASHINGTON POST: It's natural to listen with a dose of skepticism

The Post editorial says: "What started as a run on the currency of one relatively small nation -- (Thailand) has blossomed into financial trauma that threatens the economies of the region, from Japan through Indonesia. On Friday came the spectacle of the proud South Koreans, possessors of the world's 11th-largest economy, appealing for emergency aid from the International Monetary Fund. And all this took place only months after experts had been placidly singing the praises of Asia's economic miracles and dragons. Could things really have gone so wrong, so fast?"

The Post says: "When experts assure us at a time like this that the economic fundamentals are sound, it's natural to listen with a dose of skepticism. But in Asia's case the assurances are not fatuous." The newspaper says: "What's needed now is serious reform of the kind South Korea has too long postponed." And concludes: "At best, Asia's economies are in for a rough couple of years."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Asia's financial sector has gone into a spin

Nikolaus Piper, commenting Friday in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, called for a reorganization of pan-Asian financial systems and for anti-corruption measures. Piper wrote: "Asia's financial sector, the money side of its economies, has gone into a spin, and that is what makes the crisis so explosive in an age of globalized, closely interlinked financial markets. So there can be no doubt that the Asian crisis must be solved in Asia: by a reorganization of the financial system, by better regulation and by fighting corruption. It is also essential for the Japanese government to stabilize Japan's banking sector and thereby to foster confidence. Japan's special responsibility follows from its special role as the world's largest creditor nation by far at present."

The writer contended: "The industrialized countries rightly decided to throw their borders wide open for international flows of cash because they expected that to bring growth and prosperity. But one outcome has been that barriers to the international spread of panic have been demolished."

TIMES: Wall Street would have a long way to fall if Japan went into financial collapse

Commentator William Rees-Mogg writes today in The Times of London that is Japan is slipping and sliding on slick financial ice, the United States and Europe are at risk too. He says: "Naturally the weak institutions have failed first. Last week it was Yamaichi, one of Japan's big four stockbrokers; its failure amounts to about ($2.55 billion), which is large even by Japanese standards. After eight years, the Japanese Ministry of Finance has failed to strengthen the financial structure of the country. It now has what looks to be the last chance. There is not going to be a spontaneous recovery in Japanese confidence; things have gone too far."

Rees-Mogg writes: "If Japan fails, we would have to look carefully at the stability of the European Union and the United States. Both have very highly priced stock markets; despite its resistance to the earlier Asian shocks, Wall Street would have a long way to fall if Japan went into financial collapse."

NEW YORK TIMES: There may be no such thing as Asian values

A New York Times analysis yesterday by David E. Sanger contended that a bagful of "deception and fraud" lay behind many elements of Asia's spectacular prosperity. That's not unique to Asia, he wrote, but a basic question is whether the Asian tigers will change their stripes.

He wrote: "Fraud, deception and influence-peddling are hardly uniquely Asian; it was less than a decade ago that all three contributed to America's savings and loan crisis. In fact, there may be no such thing as Asian values, good or bad. Even at the height of Asia's boom, it seemed improbable that a salaryman trudging off the train in Yokohama shared much of a world view with an ethnic Chinese executive in Indonesia. Think what it would take to get a German and a Frenchman to agree on European values."

Sanger said: "One question now is whether Asia's present and no doubt temporary humbling will lead to any fundamental reassessment of the link between its authoritarian ways and its success. Until now, Asia's need to keep building prosperity -- putting economic rights first, in the lingo of the Asian values argument -- has been used as a justification to keep a lid on individual freedom."

GUARDIAN: A counter-miracle could give everyone a nasty bout of Asian flu

The Asian economic infection is substantial and needs substantive attention, The London Guardian warns today in an editorial. The Guardian says: "(Here) comes a counter-miracle of plunging markets and shaky finances propped up by corrupt and dubious structures which, as the (U.S.) State Department said yesterday, could give everyone a nasty bout of Asian flu."

The editorial says: "Yesterday (U.S. economist John Kenneth) Galbraith gave us through the BBC, some characteristically good advice. We live in a system, he said, which has a high level of uncertainty and a great degree of insanity. The time to start worrying is when someone tells you that everything is entirely rational and that the fundamentals are sound."

The Western press remains attentive also to the long confrontation between a U.N. arms inspection team and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. "The crisis is not over," remains a commentators' recurrent theme.

WASHINGTON POST: As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, there should be two constants in U.S. policy

Phebe Marr, a senior fellow at the U.S. National Defense University and a specialist on Iraqi history and politics wrote in a commentary in The Washington Post, that analysis should center no on Saddam's motives. She said: "What does he stand to gain -- or lose -- and why has he brought the international community to the brink of war yet again?"

Her answer: "In this recent episode, his two main goals are to weaken the effectiveness of UNSCOM inspections and to move toward elimination of the oil embargo. It is clear that he intends to keep his weapons-of-mass-destruction potential, (but) his second goal -- eliminating the embargo -- may be of more immediate importance." Marr wrote: "As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, there should be two constants in U.S. policy. The United States must get more help to the Iraqi people in reconstructing society. That will benefit the United States, not the Iraqi leader. And it must maintain or tighten the constraints on rebuilding weapons of mass destruction, reconstituting Iraq's military and buying off coalition resolve."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Today and tomorrow are Baghdad and Luxor

In today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, commentator Josef Joffe draws a connection between Saddam's Iraq and the Egyptian massacre site of Luxor. He writes: "For a long time the world has no longer had to fear major clashes, even nuclear ones; that is the day before yesterday." He says: "Today and tomorrow are Baghdad and Luxor, the two places which both geographically and symbolically embody two extremes -- first, the western and eastern frontiers of the Middle East conflict arena, secondly, the whole spectrum of murderous discord in this unfortunate region." Joffe adds: "Here and now, the great powers have shown at the very last minute that controlling Saddam was indeed more important than economic or diplomatic gains. We can be thankful for that."