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Western Press Review: Commentary Examines Russia, China, EU

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's economic troubles, new leadership for the EU, privatization woes in Kazakhstan, and China-U.S. relations attract Western press commentary.

NEW YORK TIMES: Legislators were driven by fears

In The New York Times, Moscow correspondent Michael Wines writes in a news analysis: "Russia's fractious national legislators complained at length (yesterday) about President Boris Yeltsin's newest and most drastic belt-tightening plan for the country's faltering economy, then began rather hastily to approve parts of it anyway. In the first of several days of debate over the proposal, Communists in the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, argued bitterly against Yeltsin's proposals for sales and value-added taxes that would directly hit consumers."

The writer says: "All that said, no one (yesterday) seemed willing to predict that the plan will go down to defeat in the Communist-controlled lower house, which is considering it first. In large part, legislators were driven by fears that rejecting the measures outright would propel the economy into genuine national chaos."

Wines writes: "Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko has said that monthly debt payments now run about 1.4 times the federal government's monthly revenue, meaning that the government has to borrow money just to pay for its past debts. Those sorts of problems have led the International Monetary Fund to demand an economic overhaul before considering billions in new loans that would prop up Russian finances and the ruble. Negotiations over $10 billion to 15 billion in new loans began last month. Foreign investors also have begun to lose confidence in the near-insolvent economy, and Russian stocks and the ruble have been under assault in recent weeks as the crisis worsened."

JOURNAL OF COMMERCE: Russia is still in trouble

On the same topic, John Helmer commented from Moscow in yesterday's Journal of Commerce, New York: "Whether or not Mr. Kiriyenko's plan works, Russia is still in trouble. What government, after all, could hope to attract foreign currency flows and investment if, according to its independent state auditor, it refuses to pay one-third of its work force; cheats its pensioners with payment formulas and delays that are contrary to law; orders electricity and water supplies cut off from towns that have tax arrears; and misdirects about one-third of the annual budget, mostly into the accounts of banks that dispatch the cash to safe havens offshore?

"These aren't the questions the International Monetary Fund and the Group of 7 industrialized countries are asking as they weigh whether to give the Kremlin the money it's asking for. Right now, they have to judge whether President Boris Yeltsin would lose power if they don't cough up right away."

The commentator wrote: "In a speech to parliament accompanying last week's austerity plan, Mr. Yeltsin threatened to dissolve the legislature unless it goes along. The power to do that isn't in the Russian constitution, lawmakers quickly pointed out. In fact, there may soon be a large enough majority of deputies to carry a resolution in favor of Mr. Yeltsin's impeachment, at least through the lower chamber. And if that falls short of enough votes in the Russian senate, the opposition may decide to force an early election by voting no confidence in Mr. Kiriyenko.

"The scheduled parliamentary poll isn't until December 1999, six months before the next presidential election. An earlier-than-planned showdown would catch the Kremlin without the cash to campaign unless the IMF board of directors obliges with its bailout. Thus, the presidential reelection campaign has commenced a year and a half too early. Mr. Yeltsin suddenly finds himself appealing for support from the same clans of bankers and businessmen whom he couldn't oblige to bury the hatchet when he last met them in September 1997."

TIMES: History and geography explain much of this presidential lurch

Austria yesterday succeeded Britain in the chair of the European Union. Writing in an analysis from Vienna in The Times, London, correspondent Charles Bremner forecasts changes in more than just the hands on the helm. Austria will steer a different course, he says. Bremner writes: "Austria replaced Britain yesterday in the chair of the European Union and made clear that it would use the presidency to fight for harmonizing taxes and to slow the opening of the EU frontiers to the former Communist states on its doorstep."

He writes, "History and geography explain much of this presidential lurch. The priorities of a big, free-trading Atlantic island have given way to those of a small and prosperous frontier country that is worried about being trampled in a westward rush by poor neighbors. For different reasons, both countries' citizens are quite euroskeptic."

Bremner says: "The Government's response to popular concerns has been spurred by the success of Joerg Haider's right-wing Austrian Freedom Party. Although damaged of late by a party corruption scandal, Herr Haider is sounding a popular note with his warnings of the danger to Austria from a rapid EU expansion."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The sale of half the country to foreigners has yielded mixed results

Kazakhstan is disappointed in many of its foreign privatization partners, Charles Clover writes in a news analysis in the Financial Times, London. He says: "The initial flush of optimism that privatization was the cure all for the country's economic crisis has been tempered by realization that the sale of half the country to foreigners has yielded mixed results and some of the deals have proved (to be) costly mistakes."

DIE WELT: U.S.-China relations are too precious to sacrifice for short-term moral victories

On U.S. President Bill Clinton trip to China, commentator Johnny Erling writes laudatorily in Germany's Die Welt: "Trite though it may sound, the significance of Clinton's visit lies in the visit itself."

He writes: "Three times so far during Clinton's visit the Chinese government has handed over the microphone to the president of the United States for a nationwide address. (Neither Clinton nor Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin) is looking for difficulties. Both presidents have made relations between their countries their personal business. Both Clinton and Jiang have run considerable risks to make this visit a success. Jiang needed Clinton's visit and his willingness to be received on Tiananmen Square. Clinton needed the open forum to express his opinion. At the same time, both were addressing their domestic opponents. U.S.-China relations are too precious to sacrifice for short-term moral victories. The critical state of these relations less than two years ago is all too easily forgotten."

Erling concludes: "Hitherto the Western world has measured China by how many dissidents it releases. After Clinton's visit the United States still will measure Chinese policy by that, but also by the number of new areas in which Beijing and Washington are acting as partners. Therein lies the success of this visit."