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Western Press Review: The State Of U.S. Relations With China

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 12 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In the wake of four days of organized protests across China over last week's accidental bombing of Beijing's embassy in Belgrade, Western press commentary continues to evaluate the state of Sino-U.S. relations. Commentators also discuss some of the larger questions involved in NATO's ongoing air strikes against Yugoslavia.

NEW YORK TIMES: The bombing of Beijing's embassy in Belgrade should not be a cause for unwise concessions in Kosovo

In an editorial today, the New York Times says: "As if the war in Yugoslavia were not complicated enough, President [Bill] Clinton must now deal with an infuriated China as he tries to fashion a political settlement in the Balkans. That is just one of several serious problems facing Clinton in the aftermath of last week's mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Another is China itself, which showed an ominously volatile side in its response to the accidental attack. In his six years as president, Clinton has not faced a more difficult set of foreign-policy challenges."

The editorial goes on: "[China's] violent, stage-managed reaction to the Belgrade bombing was unwarranted. It suggests that improved relations between Washington and Beijing have rested on a dangerously unstable foundation. Given other offensive Chinese behavior, including the effort to steal nuclear secrets, Clinton should proceed with caution, and a determination to protect American interests, as he tries to repair relations."

The paper concludes: "The first test is likely to come over Yugoslavia. China is now delaying UN consideration of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo and demanding that NATO suspend bombing before the Security Council acts. Clinton should continue to insist that Serbian forces end their rampage through Kosovo and start returning to Serbia before the bombing is stopped. The destruction at the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is lamentable, but not a cause for unwise concessions in Kosovo."

GLOBE AND MAIL: To scorn or humiliate a rising, nationalist China would be a disaster

In a commentary in Canada's Globe and Mail daily, Marcus Gee writes of the changes that have occurred in China in recent years. He says: "China has changed enormously ... The country has opened up to the world, welcoming foreign visitors, repairing ties with Western countries and allowing tens of thousands of students to study abroad ... But," he adds, "underneath all that lies a fierce and complicated nationalism."

Gee continues: "China today is a troubled country, dogged by old humiliations and unsure of its place in the world. After two decades of runaway economic growth, it wants to take its rightful place as a great power, yet feels thwarted by the old club of Western countries -- the same club that humiliated it during the days of the opium trade and the treaty ports 100 years ago.

He adds: "Outsiders must take care not to provoke China's prickly nationalism. The trick is to grant Beijing the respect that it yearns for while at the same time protecting the West's own interests and values. To kow-tow to a rising, nationalist China would be a mistake. To scorn or humiliate a rising, nationalist China would be a disaster."

WASHINGTON POST: Manipulating the news can have unforeseen consequences on China's march forward

A Washington Post commentary by Jonathan Kolatch says that "behind the [recent] clamor in China [lies] a warped Chinese world-view." He writes further: "Chinese justification for the Yugoslav cause is rooted in the simple principle that Kosovo is a domestic issue. In the Chinese world-view, all domestic issues, without exception, are immune from foreign concern. Moral conscience is not a factor."

The commentary continues: "The Chinese declaration that internal strife remains the sole concern of the controlling sovereign nations derives from the fear that if internal conflicts were open to international adjudication, open season would be declared on its two primary international sovereignty issues, Tibet and Taiwan."

Kolatch urges China to "display flexibility and an ability to tone down the emotional rhetoric on emotional issues such as Taiwan ... It should recognize," he concludes, "that manipulating the news, as in the Kosovo situation, can have unforeseen consequences on China's march forward."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: U.S. - Sino relations should appreciate present realities

In an editorial entitled "China's Other Face," the Wall Street Journal Europe notes that "President Clinton has publicly apologized for the bombing [of China's Belgrade embassy]." But, the paper adds, "China's response suggests that America is owed one too [for the instigation of riots by the Chinese leadership] against the U.S. embassy [in Beijing]."

"China's reaction," the editorial goes on, cannot "be dismissed simply as the work of renegades. Everywhere officials and their organs are whipping up fury ... President Jiang Zemin called NATO's attacks 'barbaric.'" It adds: "{There's] no surprise then that China would have a soft spot for [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, and was snuggling up to Russia long before last weekend."

The paper adds: "There is no reason for a panicked over-reaction in which the false optimism of yesterday is replaced by anti-Chinese hysteria tomorrow. The paper concludes: "Admitting that Beijing was never a suitable strategic partner for America ... is the only way to build a stable relationship. Not one built on quicksand and the fallacy of friendship, but on an appreciation of present realities."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The richer half of this continent must now bear the responsibility for assisting the poor

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende writes in an editorial today: "After World War Two, [Western Europe] was given the chance to make peace between former enemies through economic cooperation and integration. This suggests that the richer half of this continent must now bear the responsibility for assisting the poor and hard-pressed Balkan nations in a way that gives them the same chances for [achieving] stability and well-being."

INFORMATION: NATO must rethink its strategy

Another Danish newspaper, Information, writes in its editorial: "The Serbs must understand that their future depends on their commitment to democracy and not on Milosevic. It is, however, with him that the West must conclude a Kosovo peace agreement [notwithstanding his eventual possible prosecution as a war criminal]. But in order to get both Russia and the democratic forces within Serbia to accept that, NATO must rethink its strategy."

AFTENPOSTEN: The war in the Balkans has been a fiasco

The Norwegian daily Aftenposten writes: "Bearing in mind NATO's declared aims, designed in the beginning to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, the war in the Balkans has been a fiasco. Attacks from the air do not halt terrorists, and bombs alone will not make Slobodan Milosevic accept a peace force, the only guarantor for the safe return of refugees."

The paper's editorial continues: "NATO's aim must therefore be to secure UN Security Council authorization for the use of force in order to preserve international peace and security, even without the consent of the state on whose territory the operation is taking place. NATO's lack of [UN permission for its Balkan mission] has been one of the arguments in Milosevic's public-relations campaign designed to show the world that the U.S. is leading aggression [against Yugoslavia] that has not been sanctioned by the international community."

"But," the paper concludes, "[such a] resolution may be difficult to achieve while the bombs continue to fall [on Yugoslavia]."

GUARDIAN: NATO forces must have preponderant physical power on the ground

Britain's daily Guardian, which has long supported the introduction of NATO ground troops into Kosovo, today says that "the possibility of a ground attack has dwindled." The paper writes: "The British were ready to play their part ... The French ... were also prepared to be involved. But the American president ... could not muster the will, or lacks the necessary political weight, to commit the U.S. to ground action."

The Guardian adds, however, that "it would be wrong to rule out ground action absolutely. If evidence was to emerge of atrocities on a larger scale than already seen, it could change the picture. So might a refusal by Milosevic to move any distance at all toward NATO's conditions. But there is no doubt," the Guardian emphasizes, "that NATO's hand has been weakened by Clifton's retreat from the ground option."

The paper sums up: "The absolutely central issue is that NATO forces, acting for the Kosovo Albanians, must have preponderant physical power on the ground, whatever the formalities of status may be. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. If we cannot get that, we should not settle for less."