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Western Press Review: Balkan Disorder And Problems With China

By Don Hill and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 6 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The volatile situation in the Balkans continues to top the list of Western press commentators' international concerns, with China next and rising.

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, columnist Peter Muench in Munich leads a commentary on the Balkans with these words: "A state is in the throes (that is, the final tremors) of a vanishing act."

Muench is writing of Yugoslavia which, he says, first "degenerated to rump Yugoslavia" and now seems on the verge of effectively splitting off Montenegro. A new entity might take the name, Muench says, of the "Commonwealth of Montenegro and Serbia." But, he suggests, the two entities are likely to possess neither wealth nor, in his phrase, "much in common."

The New York Times, in an editorial, laments the continuing ethnic violence in Kosovo. NATO forces have been in place for two months, the newspaper says, but, in the editorial's language: "There are no local police or judges, UN police are just beginning to trickle in and NATO is doing an uneven and unsatisfactory job of preserving order." The U.S. newspaper concludes with this assessment: "NATO did not drive Slobodan Milosevics brutal occupation army out of Kosovo to allow a new era of disorder to commence."

A columnist for the same newspaper, Thomas L. Friedman, says that Kosovo has been involved in three wars this year. He writes: "The first war we lost, the second war we won and the third war is yet to be decided." Presumably, by "we," Friedman means the West. The first war, he says, was the diplomatic fight to prevent the Kosovar ethnic war. The second war was fought, in Friedman's phrase, "to reverse the results of the first war."

Friedman writes: "Now we are in Kosovo War Number Three." Friedman says the choices in Kosovo now are limited. In his words: "Either we create two Albanias (that is, a separate Albanian state in Kosovo) or one Lebanon (that is, an ethnically intermingled state with an outside fist to maintain it)." The columnist concludes as follows: "If we don't face (these limited choices) squarely, NATO will be presiding over Kosovo War Number Four."

A commentator for Britain's Financial Times, Philip Stephens, sees minor cause for optimism in the outcome of the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia over Kosovo, namely in the appointments of British Defense Minister George Robertson as the new NATO secretary-general and the European Union naming former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as its foreign policy director.

With these changes, Stephens writes, "Europe should feel more secure. It does not." There's probably at least a generation's worth of work left to be done, he says.

What the West and its leadership still are missing, the columnist writes, "are the leap of imagination, the risk-taking vision, to make hard decisions now to safeguard Europe's future a decade hence. And that is why, victory over Mr. Milosevic notwithstanding, the continent feels a pretty insecure place."

Another British publication, The Economist magazine, says in its current (Aug. 7) edition that a semi-religious organization has exposed a root vulnerability of China's communist leadership by invoking on itself a ferocious suppression. In the magazine's words: "By showing that an independent organization has the power to influence millions of people, the Falun Gong shows communism cannot endure in China."

Since the same leaders know well their history, The Economist says, they know that religious groups often helped to bring down past Chinese rulers.

Here is the magazine's assessment: "No doubt the authorities fear a repetition. Yet if anything is likely to bring that about, it is their own reaction. It may yet turn out that the seeds of Chinese communism's eventual collapse will have been sown, not by market economists or human rights activists in the West, but by weird millenarians [that is, people who believe the end of the millennium is a harbinger of great change], inspired by Chinese traditions, in China itself."

Whatever the best path to deal with China may be, Washington Post commentator Charles Krauthammer says, it isn't the one the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton has taken for the last two months. Krauthammer condemns what he calls the U.S. administration's "China grovel."

Krauthammer says the Clinton foreign policy apparatus seems unmoved by the traditional argument against appeasement, that it is humiliating and unmanly. He adds: "But how can these smart people be oblivious to its futility."

One result of the U.S. "China grovel," the writer says, has been a new and more open mainland bellicosity toward Taiwan. Krauthammer writes: "Unless Clinton draws a clear line across the Taiwan Strait, the challenge will grow only more dangerous."

A German commentator, the Frankfurter Rundschau's Harald Maass, says fears like those of Krauthammer are premature. The German writer states flatly: "Beijing is bluffing." However, Maass suggests that U.S. mildness may hand China a triumph without military action.

He writes: "The United States, Taiwan's most important ally, has warned Taipei against any further provocations. And in Europe, too, nobody would stand up for a government that had picked a fight." For this reason, and because of China-favorable political changes with Taiwan itself, the Frankfurter Rundschau's writer says, China can afford to hold back and wait. He writes: "It is winning this particular battle without firing a single shot."

A Krauthammer colleague at The Washington Post, international affairs columnist Jim Hoagland, says the U.S. administration is losing out also in its policy toward Iraq.

Writing from London, the seat of a large Arab dissident community, Hoagland labels Clinton's foreign policy as lacking in energy, and as being, in the writers words, "lackluster, unfocused and inept." Now, Hoagland writes: "The Clinton administration has backed away from a daring plan (that Iraqi exile leaders) had drawn up to challenge Saddam Hussein politically on Iraqi soil late this month."

So much, Hoagland says, for White House promises to work with the Iraqi opposition for a regime change in Baghdad.