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Western Press Review: NATO, China And Yugoslavia

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff



Prague, 11 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary is still focusing heavily today on NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia and the situation in Kosovo. Commentators and analysts assess yesterday's offer by Belgrade of a partial withdrawal of its troops from Kosovo, as well as the continuing fall-out from last week's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which NATO has admitted was a mistake.

GUARDIAN: Milosevic's move is a ploy

Britain's Guardian daily writes in an editorial: "[Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic has shrewdly played the card of partial withdrawal from Kosovo at a moment when the uneasy agreement between the NATO countries and Russia on the crisis has been made even more fragile by the Chinese reaction to the bombing of their embassy." But, the paper adds, "he should get no credit for it. It is not a peace move but a maneuver aimed at retaining control of Kosovo under international agreements that he can manipulate at will."

The editorial continues: "The next move in this play by Milosevic may very well be to demand, or have the Russians demand on his behalf, that the withdrawal deserves a response in the form of a suspension of bombing." The paper concludes, however: "The fact that Milosevic's move is a ploy does not mean there should be no exploration of how much further he might be prepared to go. Diplomacy," it notes, "can exploit proposals made in bad faith as much as those made in good faith."

FINANCIAL TIMES: There is a risk of a further damaging downward spiral in Sino-U.S. relations



The Financial Times says that "China's anger at the accidental bombing of its embassy in Belgrade is understandable ... [But] the failure of local media to report NATO's apology suggests the Chinese authorities have encouraged the demonstrations that have whipped up extraordinary anti-Western fervor on the streets on Beijing and other cities."

The editorial goes on: "Unless both sides take steps to calm the mood, there is a risk of a further serious and damaging downward spiral in relations. China needs to acknowledge NATO's apology as well as the extent of Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. NATO needs to involve China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in any longer-term solution to the Kosovo problem."

The FT concludes that "there is currently little any Chinese leader can show as the benefit from a policy of engagement with the West. The prospect thus arises of an unstable and hostile relationship between the U.S. and China, with damage that could be more than just collateral."

IRISH TIMES: A cease-fire could be in sight

In Dublin, the Irish Times sees some potential good in the Yugoslav partial withdrawal offer. In its editorial, the paper argues that the offer "is a signal that at last a cease-fire could be in sight in the war. Inevitably," the IT allows, "it is being interpreted tactically as a propaganda maneuver, part of the diplomatic and military game following NATO's mistaken and disastrous attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade last Friday. Given ... Milosevic's record as a proponent of divide and rule methods, that is not surprising."

"But," the editorial adds, "sufficient intense diplomacy is now under way around the world to allow for the hope that agreement could be reached sooner rather than later on a cease-fire and negotiation of a settlement doing justice to the Kosovar people. After the lethal atrocities in Kosovo in which thousands have died and the foul ethnic cleansing that has expelled hundreds of thousands of its people from their homes, it is welcome news indeed that some of those responsible are to withdraw."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Chinese government has put its propaganda machine into overdrive

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today editorial page director Josef Joffe analyzes China's use of "popular anger as a weapon." He says: "The Chinese government has put its propaganda machine into overdrive, systematically spreading the false information that the North Atlantic alliance consciously and intentionally fired on the diplomatic facility ... Mob anger," he adds, "can be stirred up anywhere in the world where people are fed enough lies that bore into a nation's pride and self-confidence like some poisonous bacteria."

Joffe says further: "The orchestration of the angry [Chinese] masses ... must mean the regime has decided to systematically poison the relationship with the U.S. and the West. Not since the Cultural Revolution [in the 1960s] has such aggressive language and behavior been seen in China."

He adds: "That not only the U.S. is affected can be seen in the half-cancellation of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's trip to Beijing this week. At Chinese request, a four-day official visit has been reduced to a one-day working trip. Schroeder has also apologized for the terrible NATO mistake, but he most now play along in a scenario in which the Chinese government is pushing their most important partners in a direction which cannot serve Chinese interests."

BILD: Schroeder's success in Beijing would be an act of diplomatic artistry

Other German newspapers also discuss Schroeder's trip to Beijing today. The mass-circulation daily Bild calls the journey "the most difficult trip of Mr. Schroeder's political life....Without Beijing's consent," the paper argues, "there will be no UN participation in a peace settlement." It adds: "Success in Beijing would be an act of diplomatic artistry of the first degree."

DIE WELT: The bombs are having the intended effect

Die Welt comments on the Yugoslav offer of a partial troop withdrawal from Kosovo, cautioning: "[Milosevic] has proven himself to be a master of unscrupulous tactics. But," the paper also says, there is "a glimmer of hope in the fact that Milosevic is looking for a return to the political sphere and to the negotiating table". That, it concludes, shows that "the bombs are having the intended effect."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Beijing is trying to use as much of the NATO fiasco as it can

In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende writes today: "It is unacceptable that the Chinese leadership both withholds important aspects of the [Belgrade bombing] tragedy from the state media and looks the other way when massive demonstrations destroy foreign property within China."

The paper's editorial continues: "The scenes we've been witnessing [in China] over the past few days are dishonorable for a great power that wants to be seen as a constructive partner in foreign policy. Beijing is trying to use as much of the NATO fiasco as it can in order to suit its own political needs: to give some breathing room to its own frustrated population ahead of the Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary and to achieve concessions in several areas including trade."

INFORMATION: NATO must at the very least stop killing civilians

Another Danish daily, Information, writes in its editorial today: "The [embassy bombing] incident in Belgrade shows how inconsistent NATO's strategies are. Who is going to listen to NATO's arguments when civilians are being killed? Peace is still a long way away in the Balkans," the paper continues. "A proven tactician like Milosevic will surely do his best to exploit differences within the G-8 group of nations [as well as] the disagreements between NATO and Russia. His motto is, 'I cannot win, but NATO can lose.'"

Information continues: "'NATO must at the very least stop killing civilians and targeting civilian targets such as TV stations and power works. It must also re-think its strategy of bombing from [high in the sky] in order not to jeopardize its own pilots' safety. That strategy inevitably leads to civilian casualties. This very fact is in sharp contrast with NATO's description of its operations as 'humanitarian.'"

AFTENPOSTEN: China must join in with massive diplomatic support

In Norway's Aftenposten, Foreign Editor Nils Morten Udgaard writes in a commentary: "The missiles that hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade came as if by the order of... Slobodan Milosevic." He then asks: "Is this a conflict where everything goes wrong for NATO, which is actually fighting a war for the first time?"

The commentary continues: "The destruction of China's Embassy could not have hurt NATO's cause more. China has been the great, the uncertain and the largely unpredictable power observing the war [in the Balkans] from behind the scenes. [But] it is the UN Security Council that should sanction all military acts not conducted in self-defense -- and China is a permanent member of that body. If massive diplomatic support is to be gathered against Slobodan Milosevic, China must go along -- or else it can exercise its veto power."

WASHINGTON POST: The Big Lie is alive and well in Beijing

In an editorial titled "China's True Colors," the Washington Post today also discusses the Beijing Government's apparent encouragement of anti-Western demonstrations. The paper writes: "China has reacted to the mistaken NATO bombing of its Belgrade embassy suspiciously like a totalitarian nation. The state-controlled media, which is to say China's only media, have whipped people into a fury with inaccurate and incomplete reporting."

The WP goes on: "[Chinese] newspapers have failed to report U.S. explanations or apologies. The Government has provided buses, placards and lists of pre-approved slogans to demonstrators. In so doing, it has generated precisely the response it wanted: a frenzy of nationalistic protests that distract people from their domestic discontents while, the regime hopes, increasing China's leverage abroad."

The paper concludes: "From the start, China's regime has kept its media from reporting on this Serbian crime against humanity. It has relentlessly portrayed Mr. Milosevic as a beleaguered hero and NATO as an evil imperialist giant. China wants above all the freedom to repress its own minorities without outside interference....The Big Lie is alive and well in Beijing as in Belgrade."

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