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Western Press Review: Asia's Press And Politics

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 2 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press analysts turn much of their attention today to recent events in Asia. Yesterday's announced merger of two U.S. oil giants, Mobil and Exxon, also evokes some comment.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Failing to report negative news does not erase it

The Los Angeles Times carries commentaries on freedom of the press in two major Asian nations, China and Indonesia. Wang Ruoshiu, a former deputy editor of China's People's Daily, discusses what he calls the Communist Government's "ban on 'bad' news." He writes: "There are a number of reasons why the average person in China does not read the (supposedly authoritative) People's Daily, but the most obvious is that they do not believe the Communist Party's propaganda organs. The media's official guiding principle is to focus on the 'good' and ignore the 'bad.'"

His commentary continues: "Consider the chaos in June at the newly built Hong Kong international airport. The whole world learned about the airport's disastrous opening day --everyone, that is, but the citizens of mainland China. Instead, the People's Daily boasted of the airport's great and glorious achievements..."

Wang asks: "Who benefits from unreported news?" He answers: "The officials responsible for the errors or who actually made the errors. But failing to report negative news does not erase it. If anything, it exacerbates the situation. An important reason for the overwhelming prevalence of corruption in China is that too little of it has been exposed by the media."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: It's clear the revolution is unfinished

The second commentary is by Peter Eng, a reporter who has followed events in southeast Asia for more than 10 years. He writes: "For Indonesia's journalists, it's clear the revolution is unfinished. While reporting on anti-government protests in Jakarta last month, at least seven of them learned first-hand that their old foe, the military, has changed little. Although the journalists respectfully showed their IDs, the soldiers seized their cameras and beat them, witnesses said."

Eng goes on: "In Southeast Asia, attacks on the media also are attacks on democratic movements, because journalists have played crucial roles in the movements. As in Thailand and the Philippines, journalists in Indonesia helped up-end the old order by covering protest movements and by exposing human-rights abuses. Their struggle has borne fruit. In five months, the new government of President B.J. Habibie has granted more new publishing licenses than Suharto did in 32 years of rule."

"But," the commentary adds, "restrictive laws remain in place. Accordingly, the new freedoms must be closely guarded because they may not last....Over time, southeast Asian rulers have modified their pretexts for restricting the media, but the message is the same: If you criticize, you subvert the national interest."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: 'Incident' is used to deny and diminish massacres

In the International Herald Tribune today, Asian specialist Jonathan Mirsky says that "the Chinese have much to apologize for." His commentary assesses Chinese President Jiang Zemin's trip to Japan, which ended Monday (Nov. 30). He writes: "No-one can object to President Jiang's insistence that the Japanese face up to the atrocities that their troops committed in China before and during World War Two." But, he adds, "I cannot count the number of times I have been urged to 'stop harping on the past' when I refer to what has happened to Chinese citizens during the past 50 years."

Mirsky continues: "The word 'incident' is used by the Japanese to describe the Nanjing massacre of 1937 which killed 300,000 Chinese, and by Beijing about the Tiananmen Square killings of 1989, when hundreds if not thousands of Chinese were killed by their own army. In both instances, 'incident' is used to deny and diminish."

The commentary also says: "When it comes to the Cultural Revolution (of the 1960s and early 1970s), described officially in China as the greatest catastrophe in the Communist period, there has been no written apology to the millions of victims....President Jiang is right to harry the Japanese about their war guilt. But, like all Marxist rulers, he imagines (that memory can be selective,) invited here, repelled there. He forgets that memory is not so easy to rebuff --1,300 million Chinese, 1,300 million memories."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Public expectations and political performances may start rising

Under the heading "The Onions Won," the Wall Street Journal Europe today assesses the results of recent elections in another major Asian nation, India. The paper writes in an editorial: "While India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, for Indian People's Party) winces over its losses in the three key state elections, the party's poor showing in its first popularity test since it came to national power eight months ago could turn out to be a blessing. Put simply, the BJP was defeated by the lowly onion, an Indian staple that now costs about 700 percent more than it did in September."

The WSJ goes on: "If the party can stop blaming the weather and accept that shortages and inflation are symptoms of a larger problem...India may finally begin to see the deep and sustained economic reform its needs. (And if the rebuff to the BJP) means that ordinary Indians are no longer resigned to being battered by corruption and poverty, (politicians) are bound to take note."

The editorial adds: "At bottom, that's what makes a democratic system better than any other....A few more electoral slaps like the one the BJP just got and, who knows, standards of public expectations and political performances may start rising together."

NEW YORK TIMES: Now nearly everything has changed

In an editorial on the merger of Exxon and Mobil, the New York Times writes: "It was only (20 years) ago that the oil industry seemed to be sitting astride the global economy. Oil prices were high and were expected to continue rising indefinitely....(But) now nearly everything has changed, and a struggling oil industry is seeking security through combination as it confronts prices that, adjusted for inflation, are lower than those that prevailed before the first oil shock a quarter of a century ago."

The NYT continues: "It is against that backdrop that the merger wave must be viewed. Exxon is buying Mobil only months after British Petroleum agreed to buy Amoco. Two big European companies, (France's) Total and (Belgium's) Petrofina, also are combining."

"These deals," the editorial adds, "do not reflect either power over markets or a hope of attaining such power. The oil business is a harshly competitive one in which many companies are only beginning to adjust to this year's plunge in prices.... Perhaps the most revealing comment came in the form of a denial by Lucio Noto, the Mobil chairman. 'This is not,' he told reporters, 'a combination based on desperation.' No such denial would have been needed even a few years ago."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Hard economics is promoting consolidation

U.S. energy specialist Daniel Yergin writes in a commentary on the merger in today's Financial Times of Britain: "One may whistle now in amazement at the scale of the new company that will be formed from the $75.3 billion takeover of Mobil by Exxon....(But) what is promoting consolidation in the contemporary oil industry is (simply) hard economics."

Yergin explains: "Oil was one of the first global industries to be hit by the Asian crisis....The region's demand had been expected to grow (this year). Instead, it plummeted (as did prices,) falling by more than 40 percent between 1997 and 1998."

The commentary adds: "The industry has responded by cutting budgets by 20 to 30 percent....Mergers and acquisitions are the ultimate form of cost-cutting, sometime to be measured in thousands of millions of dollars...But more than that, mergers are transforming the industry (and) a combination between Exxon and Mobil is likely to foster other mergers."

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