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Western Press Review: EU Meets Asia; N. Ireland Negotiations Near Deadline

By Joel Blocker, Esther Pan and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 6 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A good deal of West European press opinion assesses the results of the weekend summit meeting of 25 European Union and Asian nations. Commentators are also concerned with negotiations over the status of Britain's Northern Ireland province, which today begin a final and critical four days of bargaining that could lead to an historic settlement.

DIE WELT: EU-Asia summit amounts to nice words and non-binding agreements

Yesterday's edition of Germany's Die Welt summed up -- and largely dismissed -- the results of the two-day EU-Asia summit in London as "nice words, a painstakingly pledged (EU) aid fund (for Asia) and non-binding accountability agreements." The paper wrote: "It looks as if it could be years before Japan starts up its economic motor again....China, whose currency the yuan has not been devalued...looks secure only for the moment. The government in Beijing may soon react with concern over its growing unemployment figures." The editorial continued: "In the worst-case scenario the Chinese would, like the Japanese, seek to stimulate the economy with massive handouts for infrastructure building projects....Admittedly, this sort of policy was only one of the basic causes of the Asian financial crisis. But whoever doesn't learn this lesson will end up consumed by the fire instead of putting it out."

NEUE OSNABRUCKER ZEITUNG: We must learn from Asia

In its editorial yesterday, the respected provincial newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung suggested Asia has more to learn from the EU than it has to teach. The paper wrote: "'We must learn from Asia,' is what the gurus of globalization told us two years ago at the first (EU-Asia) summit meeting in Bangkok. Now, in the midst of a financial and currency crisis, Asia is realizing that giving advice is not a one-way street." The paper went on to say: "Asian nations could learn a thing or two from Europe: For examples, more openness in decision-making, more freely available data for the market economy and a solid social-protection system that is well-organized and adequately financed. These things are not luxuries." The editorial concluded: "With a bit more foresight, (Asian) governments could have avoided political strife. (Now) the German idea of the social market economy is winning a new look from the Asians."

LE FIGARO: Stability of world economy needs China, Japan

The French daily Le Figaro today says that, "above all, what emerged from the meeting was that Europeans don't want their 'Asian friends' to be sick --especially," the paper writes, "those (Europeans) who realize that the stability of the world economy needs China and Japan as key supports." The paper also says in an editorial: "Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who made his first international appearance, left a strong impression. He announced reforms that he would like to lead, and proposed, to the great relief of his hosts, a new devaluation of the Chinese currency." But Le Figaro concludes that is why "no-one dared to think about discussing human rights with the chief representative from Beijing."

LE MONDE: EU wants as much influence in Asia as the U.S.

Another French daily, Le Monde, wrote in its weekend edition (April 4-5): "Europe exists. That was the most important message that the 15 EU heads of state and government wanted to convey to their Asian colleagues. (But) the EU had to swallow strong criticism for having done almost nothing during the turbulence that has been rocking Asian economies since the summer of 1997. That's why the 15 wanted to emphasize their commitment to the region and underline their hope that in the future they will have at least as much influence as the United States." Le Mondes editorial concluded: "Yet, even if (EU leaders) put forward a global and even visionary view of their relationship with Asia, they had to leave out some important questions. And the issue of human rights was scrapped from the agenda."

NEW YORK TIMES: Washington stops condemning China's human-rights abuses

Across the Atlantic, the New York Times is also concerned with Communist China's human-rights record. In an editorial today, the paper criticizes the U.S. Government for allegedly softening its attitude toward China's human-rights violations. It writes: "By dropping its annual sponsorship of a resolution condemning China at the UN Human Rights Commission, now meeting in Geneva, the Clinton Administration acknowledges what has long been obvious. Washington no longer favors public condemnations of China's severe human-rights abuses, believing that such criticism damages broader diplomatic and commercial relations between Beijing and Washington." The editorial goes on: "Human rights are a basic American interest, and the Administration should not flinch from promoting them. Whether Washington does so through public criticism or less confrontational methods should be determined by the effectiveness of either approach." The paper concludes: "The China Clinton will visit in June is a country in intellectual flux and more open than ever to outside ideas. Clinton should take advantage of the opportunity to talk directly about the rights and freedoms that Americans hold most important, just as Ronald Reagan openly challenged the Soviet Union's stifling ideology during his 1988 visit to Moscow. Most freedoms are still lacking in China."

LONDON TIMES: Agreement will not end terrorism

Turning to Northern Ireland, today's Times of London says that the four-day deadline London and Dublin have imposed on this week's talks is both necessary and dangerous. In an editorial, the paper writes: "Deadlines can distort perspectives as well as concentrating minds. The British and Irish Governments have imposed upon themselves, and on Northern Ireland's politicians, the tightest of timetables for talks on the Province's future." The editorial continues: "There are good reasons why a time limit has been set. To allow open-ended discussion would be to postpone agreement forever, and this summer's marching season could have forced new allies back into old trenches. But in the rush to secure agreement before midnight chimes on Thursday (April 9) there is a danger that expectations will have been aroused which no reasonable settlement can satisfy." The paper concludes: "Although the...negotiations have been termed 'peace talks,' it is dangerously naive to assume that an agreement will end terrorism in Ireland....Even if an agreement acceptable to the current Sinn Fein leadership is reached this week, it will leave a significant section of the (Irish) republican movement (in Ulster) gravely disappointed. Cross-border bodies, however powerful, will not satisfy those republicans who are pledged not to rest until the border itself goes."

IRISH TIMES: We stand at the door of history

Dublin's Irish Times entitles its editorial today, "Standing at History's Door." The paper writes: "The lights have burned late. The weekend hours have been a succession of intensive meetings and telephone conferences. This morning, political leaders and officials face into what is likely to be the final, crucial four days of the negotiating process for a new settlement between the peoples of these islands. We stand, perhaps, at the door of history." The paper goes on to say: "Only the recklessly optimistic can be sanguine at this point. Potent and lethal forces are inevitably activated by any attempt at political movement in Northern Ireland. Deep, tribal instincts are never far below the surface. And as this process has advanced they have, in many instances, been as much stoppered up (that is, repressed) as dissipated."

The Irish Times' editorial concludes that both republicans and separatists in Northern Ireland "know only too well that in moving towards any compromise they are moving ahead of dangerous and recalcitrant elements among their own supporters." It says: "It is precisely at moments such as this that such elements are likely to cast their weight against any compromise. Those who seek to prevent agreement by the overt use of violence are an evident threat. But they are not the only possible source of attempts at destabilization over the coming days. Those who have led thus far, showing courage and vision, require and are entitled to particular support at this point."

LA STAMPA: EU attracts Ireland and Britain to a common project

Italy's La Stampa also commented yesterday on British-Irish relations and their possible effect on Northern Ireland. In an editorial, the paper said: "As imperfect as (the EU) is, it has nonetheless attracted Ireland and Britain to a common project. Ireland has profited greatly from (the EU). Thanks to a model economic and fiscal policy, the country has a strong growth rate and has conquered inflation and achieved admirable state finances." La Stampa went on to say that the EU "also revealed the psychological bonds that bind Ireland and England together. One (country) cannot adopt the Schengen (open-border) agreements without the other, and so both remain outside. The European wind is now blowing over Northern Ireland, and has blown away old psychological barriers."