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Western Press Review: Economic, Political Upheavals Capture Press Attention

  • Don Hill



Prague, 20 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Economic and political unease from Russia to Indonesia seize the attention of Western press commentary.

NEWSDAY: There is now domestic political pressure

Mike M. Mochizuki, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and specialist in Japanese politics and foreign policy, wrote Friday in a commentary in the U.S. newspaper Newsday that a surprising militancy in the Japanese electorate actually is a hopeful sign. He said: "No one had predicted the scale of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's defeat in Japan's parliamentary election. The conventional wisdom held that Japanese citizens were too apathetic to vote, especially since the election was for the less powerful House of Councilors."

Mochizuki wrote: "In the short term, political turmoil and weak leadership may obstruct decisive action. But on balance, a little post-election turbulence is better than a continuation of the foot-dragging of the last several years. Even if Japan selects an uninspiring leader as the next prime minister, there is now domestic political pressure - as well as pressure from America and global financial markets - to promote economic reform. And that is the best news coming out of Japan in quite some time."

WASHINGTON POST: Something as bold as the Marshall Plan is needed to rescue Asia

Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, commented Saturday in The Washington Post: "To the amazement of everyone possibly including itself, the long-neglected and downtrodden Japanese electorate sent a loud, unexpected demand for change to its political leaders."

Now, he said the leadership should respond. He writes: "(Japan's new leaders) should call for an immediate extraordinary meeting of leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) to launch development of an Asian recovery plan that could be announced at the fall APEC leaders' meeting." The writer said: "Fifty years ago, the Marshall Plan was developed to save collapsing Europe. Now something equally as bold is needed to rescue Asia."

NEW YORK TIMES: Only rarely has Japan had a strong leader

Today in The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof writes in an analysis from Tokyo that new faces in Japan don't necessarily mean real leadership. He says: "As Washington yearns for a forceful new prime minister to emerge in Japan and take charge of the economy, history suggests that is not very likely. Over the decades and centuries, Japan has had good rulers and bad rulers, but only rarely has it had a strong leader. The last leader who really reshaped Japan was arguably Ieyasu Tokugawa, who lived four centuries ago.

"Even many Japanese speak wistfully of the need for a bold leader who could force through measures to revive the economy, end fears of a Japanese recession setting off a global downturn and restore the nation's self-confidence. But most also say that is simply not how this country works. "As the elders of the Liberal Democratic Party bargain furiously among themselves to choose a new prime minister to replace Ryutaro Hashimoto, who resigned last Monday after the party's disastrous performance in parliamentary elections, the leading candidate is Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi. Obuchi, a humble, graying man, is widely regarded as an extremely nice and sincere man who has managed to leave no fingerprints on his country's policies during 35 years in Parliament."

Commentator Stefan Kornelius wrote Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that U.S. Congressional opponents of the International Monetary Fund recognize the need for the financial institution. He commented: "Even Republican hardliners in the U.S. House of Representatives cannot turn a blind eye to their political inconsistencies for ever. Those wishing to keep the United States running as an economic generator have to promote exports, while those promoting exports need markets.

"Those seeking markets had better take care that a healthy global economic climate exists. Where this fails, the globalizers' emergency services has to intervene. This good Samaritan is the IMF. The Republicans have long refused to top up the IMF chest which lately has been strongly burdened. They are using their power in budget affairs to unload their frustration over international liabilities. However, a volte-face is in the offing. The farmers in the American corn belt are losing their markets in Asia, the industrial sector is grumbling."

NEW YORK TIMES: Even Communists have praised Yeltsin's decision

From Moscow, The New York Times' Michael Wines analyzes today the background of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's latest economic decrees. Wines writes: "Stung by his Parliament's rejection of tax-and-spending reforms widely seen as the only way out of Russia's fiscal tailspin, President Boris Yeltsin did this past weekend what he had long threatened: He decreed reforms on his own. He had little choice. (Today), the International Monetary Fund will meet to decide whether to lend Russia $5.600 billion to build up the depleted reserves of its central bank. The money is regarded as crucial to stabilizing the value of the ruble and calming panicky foreign investors."

Wines says: "Over the weekend, Yeltsin signed measures that will quadruple the tax on most land, allow precious-metals producers to export their products directly and more tightly regulate alcohol production and sales. He also vetoed two laws passed by Parliament, involving profits and excise taxes, that would have lowered tax revenues by billions of rubles."

He writes: "Yeltsin has come in for some criticism that his refusal to abide by Parliament's actions is dictatorial. Oddly enough, however, even Communists in the Legislature who played a major role in torpedoing parts of the fiscal package have praised his decision - in part, perhaps, because they fix responsibility for unpopular measures on the president."

WASHINGTON POST: The shock in Indonesia has produced a special challenge to the World Bank

Turning to Indonesia, Stephen S. Rosenfeld wrote over the weekend in a Washington Post commentary: "Of the countries caught up in economic crisis, none is in more agony than Indonesia, where for tens of millions of people a whole generation's worth of progress has suddenly vaporized. The shock has produced a special challenge to the World Bank, which made of Indonesia a world-class showcase for rapid growth and the alleviation of mass poverty. The grave charge is that the Bank, if it did not in some cases make things worse by going along with pervasive corruption, failed to make things better by early on systematically addressing this poisonous developmental disease."

FINANCIAL TIMES: China faces threats to stability

China's promised boom has fizzled, James Kynge writes in today's Financial Times, London. The writer says: "When Zhu Rongji assumed China's premiership in March he pledged to blaze his trail no matter if a 'minefield or an abyss' lay ahead. But just five months on, his mission to reform China's creaking state-owned enterprises and indebted state banks is being eclipsed by the need to deal with multiple eruptions of more immediate problems." Kynge writes: "Threats to stability have come mainly from ballooning unemployment and the stress that slowing economic growth is imposing on hundreds of ill-regulated, non-bank financial institutions in many regions."

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