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Western Press Review: China-Taiwan Dispute Spurs Discussion

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The dispute between China and Taiwan attracts substantial Western press commentary today.

ECONOMIST: The controversy puts the West in a difficult position

The London-based Economist magazine -- in its current (July 24) edition -- says Chinese leaders are beating war drums in an effort to intimidate Taiwan.

The Economist commentary says: "It seems more like an abstruse semantic debate than a threat to world peace. But, if some Chinese leaders are to be believed, the latest language used by Lee Teng-hui, Taiwans president, to describe the islands relationship with the mainland could lead to a war. The threat of force has become almost a kneejerk reaction for Chinas leaders whenever Taiwan displeases them."

The controversy, says The Economist, "puts the West -- and especially the United States -- in a difficult position." The magazine says: "The current squabble also highlights an ... ambiguity in American foreign policy. The United States is both a subscriber to Chinas formula about one China and yet also, through the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, committed to the defense of Taiwan."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: A U.S. ground invasion of China to protect Taiwan is out of the question

A professor of Chinese studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem writes in a commentary in the International Herald Tribune that the Chinese military is assessing the likely costs of taking Taiwan by military force.

Ellis Joffe writes: "If, despite the risk of U.S. intervention, China were to use force against Taiwan, its position would be incomparably better than that of the Yugoslavs (in Kosovo). Its territory is much larger. The United States has fewer air bases close to China, and they are vulnerable to Chinese missiles."

He writes: "A U.S. ground invasion of China to protect Taiwan is out of the question. The United States would find it much more difficult to mobilize its allies and public opinion for a prolonged bombing campaign against China. Moreover, China has a nuclear deterrent."

NEW YORK TIMES: Tinkering with the status of Taiwan is the diplomatic equivalent of handling nitroglycerin

The New York Times avoids the word "explosive" in an editorial on China but clearly sees the current situation that way. The newspaper says: "Tinkering with the status of Taiwan is the diplomatic equivalent of handling nitroglycerin. President Clinton seemed well aware of the dangers as he carefully picked his words this week in commenting about heightened tensions between Taiwan and China. President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan would do well to follow Mr. Clinton's example."

The editorial says that "Beijing's response (to recent remarks by Lee also was) rash." It says: "Threatening Taiwan with blockade or invasion is not the way to persuade its people to support reunification. Washington's relations with Beijing rest not only on the doctrine that Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single China but also on America's insistence that the reunification issue be resolved peacefully."

The editorial concludes: "Mr. Lee should drop his talk of separate states, and Beijing should abandon the idea of reunification by military force."

AFTENPOSTEN: There is no questioning the Communist party's monopoly on power

Norway's Aftenposten also addresses tensions in China. The daily says in an editorial that China's reaction was predictable. It says: "The Chinese authorities react to all challenges the way any authoritarian power does: with bans and the flexing of muscles.

"Yesterday, they did just that. Beijing banned the quasi-religious movement Falun Gong, and arrested its leaders. It happened a couple of days after the People's Liberation Army had undertaken a massive exercise, which included the use of land troops, and which took place near the Taiwan straits. The purpose of the exercises was clear: Taiwan must withdraw President Lee Teng-hui's statement that there were two Chinese states, the People's Republic and Taiwan."

The editorial says: "The two incidents are unrelated, but they show the way the Chinese government reacts to both domestic and external challenges. China has allowed economic modernization but has upheld the Communist party's monopoly on power. Any attempt to even question this monopoly is crushed with an iron fist."

TIMES: Repression can only be a stopgap

The Times of London condemns the Chinese government's response to the influence of Falun Gong. It says in an editorial: "Yesterday, the Chinese government banned a mass movement, Falun Gong (Buddhist Law), whose millions of adherents might appear to be engaged in nothing more threatening than a variant on the ancient custom (of meditation). Declaring it to be an unregistered, and therefore illegal, organization, Beijing denounced Li Hongzhi, the founder of its research organization, Falun Dafa, for 'jeopardizing social stability.' "

The British newspaper said: "It is easier to see why the government is worried than how it will succeed in suppressing this movement. One reason is its size; although its claims to have 70 million followers in China, more than the Communist Party's 60 million, are probably exaggerated, it could well have 30 million."

The editorial concludes: "However formidable China's security apparatus may be, repression can only be a stopgap. Falun Gongs appeal is a reminder that China needs to expand the channels through which people can let off steam. China is an increasingly pluralistic society; but it has yet to create democratic outlets that meet an evident popular need.

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The torpedoes have missed their mark this time

German commentator Wolfgang Koydl -- writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung -- says that Turkey's government was overly bold and clumsy in remarks to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer during a recent trip to Istanbul and Ankara.

From Istanbul, Koydl says that Turkey fired some political torpedoes at Fischer that were aimed at sending the painstakingly repaired German-Turkish relationship back to the bottom of the sea. He writes: "A first assessment of the situation, however, shows that the torpedoes have missed their mark this time. Reports of the successful arrest of an alleged top man in the Kurdistan Workers' Party were almost insolent in their transparency. Although the event took place over a week ago, it was first loudly proclaimed just as Fischer was boarding his plane. The news was garnished with a picture of the PKK leader's German travel documents."

Koydl says: "The purpose of the exercise was clear: the equation 'terrorism + PKK = Germany' was to be planted firmly in the heads of Turkish newspaper readers. For those who didn't get it straight away, a few tabloids provided more fuel."

In a way, writes Koydl, "the barrage has had a positive effect: the anti-Europeans (in Turkey) have blown their cover. From now on, it will be easier to fight them."

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Turkey is neither changing tactics nor mentality

The Greek daily Eleftherotypia editorialized yesterday from a different perspective on Turkey's handling of the arrest of Kurdish leader Cevat Soisal. Eleftherotypia faulted Turk authorities for insensitivity to human rights.

The newspaper said that at the same time it was announcing Soisal's arrest, "Ankara showed its intentions to Greece, when for eight minutes Turkish fighter aircraft harassed the plane that was flying the Greek Minister of Transportation Tasos Mantelis from Cyprus to Greece."

The editorial continued: "Turkey -- under pressure from (the West) to democratize, respect human rights and find a political solution for the Cyprus issue and the Kurdish problem -- is reacting in ways that show that it is neither changing tactics nor mentality."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Greece lost an opportunity to be a force for stability in the Balkans

Greece isn't doing so well itself with democracy and diplomacy, author and Greek public affairs specialist George Kassimeris comments in The Wall Street Journal Europe.

Kassimeris says Greece lost an opportunity to be a force for stability in the Balkans after the fall of communism. He writes: "The most stable, democratic and ethnically homogenous Balkan state, a member of both the EU and NATO, Greece was ideally placed to act as a force for stability in the region and become its economic and political leader. Instead, Greece created friction with most of its Balkan neighbors. Its bullying of the newly born Republic of Macedonia destroyed Greece's international credibility and threatened for a time to ignite a wider Balkan conflict."

He says: "The social, political and economic consequences of such persistent dysfunctional behavior have been damaging. It is no accident that after 17 years in the EU and despite having received more EU funds than any other partner since 1983, Greece remains the EU's poorest member."

(Anthony Georgieff and Alexis Papasotiriou also contributed to this report.)