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Western Press Review: China-Taiwan Relations, Ukraine, Kosovo

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 16 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Barely 72 hours before a critical presidential election in Taiwan (Saturday), mainland China's communist Prime Minister Zhu Ronjii yesterday threatened voters in the island-state to follow Beijing's electoral preference or suffer dire consequences. Western press commentators assess Zhu's remarks and the election's likely impact on Taiwan-mainland relations. There are also comments today on Ukraine and Kosovo.

WASHINGTON POST: Taiwan's greatest threat to China is as an example of a prospering democracy

The Washington Post says Zhu sounded yesterday more like a "Mafia kingpin" than the pragmatist and the reformer he has generally been held to be in the West. The paper's editorial cites the wording of the premier's threat to Taiwan voters: "Anyone who advocates independence will 'not end up well,' he said. And," the paper adds, "[Zhu] mocked Western experts who dismiss Chinese threats by arguing reassuringly that China lacks the military strength to invade Taiwan. 'People making such calculations don't know about Chinese history,' the prime minister said."

Still, the paper continues, "China experts in the West will hasten to explain why Mr. Zhu's words do not mean what they appear to mean." It warns against just such an interpretation, saying it would be more prudent to entertain the notion that Zhu, in the paper's words, "means what he says, that his regime is prepared to use force against Taiwan."

To support its argument, the paper says this: "China's rulers view Taiwan as a renegade province; Hong Kong and Macau have been folded back into the People's Republic, and now only Taiwan remains." As for Beijing's vaunted communism, the Washington Post is skeptical: "China's Communists may see this kind of jingoism as their best chance for maintaining power; not even they claim to believe in communism anymore, after all, and they certainly can claim no democratic mandate." It concludes: "Taiwan's greatest threat to them, in fact, is as an example. The island is a prospering democracy, proving that Chinese people are capable of governing themselves."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: China's saber rattling did heighten insecurity on Taiwan and may well influence the election outcome

The Los Angeles Times calls on the U.S. government to give Taiwan the "strong support" it needs as its voters prepare to go to the polls to decide a closely contested presidential race. The paper writes in its editorial: "Beijing, with a barely disguised intent to meddle in the electoral process, has threatened Taiwan with a military attack if it drags its feet on negotiating unification. The saber rattling across the Taiwan Strait has not dampened the robust presidential campaign, but it did heighten insecurity on the island and may well influence the outcome."

For the U.S. West Coast daily, "China's threats clearly undermine the wobbly 'one country -- two systems' principle on which the mainland and Taiwan have coexisted for decades. Under that principle," it recalls, "unification can be achieved only by peaceful negotiation." It adds that, to back Taiwan, the U.S. has to do more than "simply repeat its opposition to the use of force." The U.S., the paper says, "must strengthen military alliances not only with Taiwan but also with other Asian countries."

GLOBE AND MAIL: Democracy has taken root in Taiwan

In a commentary in Canada's Globe and Mail daily today, Marcus Gee bids "farewell to a 'one-China' policy." He writes: "Another election in Taiwan, another crisis with China. So it goes across the Taiwan Strait. The last time Taiwan held a presidential election, China fired guided missiles into the waters around Taiwan." But, he adds, "it did not work. They elected [current President] Lee Teng-hui, who quietly but forcefully asserted Taiwan's individuality. It was he who caused an international fuss last July by declaring that Taiwan would henceforth deal with China on a 'state to state' basis."

Gee goes on to say that many Western leaders thought the Taiwan-China problem had been solved by what he calls "a masterpiece of diplomatic ambiguity known as the 'one China' policy." What wrecked that notion, he adds, was democracy's taking root in Taiwan. Gee argues: "In a series of elections and opinion polls, the people of Taiwan have made it clear that they have no interest in reunifying with China for the foreseeable future."

"Why should they?" he asks in his sum-up. "They have been a brilliant success on their own, turning their little island into an economic powerhouse and, lately, a thriving democracy." Mainland China, he adds, "has gone through no such evolution."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Bullying tactics are not going to work

The Wall Street Journal Europe is also concerned today with what it calls "war talk" by China. Its editorial says: "As [China's] National People's Congress winds up in Beijing, the Politburo is turning the war rhetoric up to full volume, using the state media to drive home the message that [Taiwanese] independence equals war. But it's unlikely this campaign will have much effect, and in fact it could increase support for [candidate Chen Shui-bian, whose Democratic Progressive Party once supported independence]." That, it argues, is because "Taiwan's voters are already seeing past the election to the future, when China will have to deal with the new president whether they like him or not."

The paper adds: "Once this election is over, Beijing will have to tone down its campaign and reconsider its options." It advises: "Bullying tactics are not going to work, because Taiwan has a firm bottom line. If the mainland wants to initiate a conflict with missiles and bombs, to kill Chinese countrymen in cold blood, Taiwan would defend itself vigorously and successfully with the support of the U.S." And the paper concludes: "Beijing's recent bellicosity may be partly the result of internal Communist Party politics. But China's leaders should realize they would gain nothing either internationally or domestically from a failed attack."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The IMF will destroy its own reputation if it continues to lend money to Ukraine

Britain's Financial Times carries an editorial today on what it describes as "Ukraine's plight." The paper says that the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, or IMF -- likely to be Germany's Horst Koehler -- will have "as one of his most urgent and difficult decisions [how] to handle Ukraine." That's because, it adds, "the IMF has got itself into a terrible tangle in its dealings with [the] former Soviet republic, from which there will be no easy way out. The fund has allowed itself to be bullied, mainly by the U.S. administration [of President Bill Clinton], into lending to Kyiv for political reasons rather than according to strict economic and financial criteria."

The editorial continues: "The predictable result [of the IMF's action] is that Ukraine has consistently failed to reform its economy, its financial management, and its public administration, in exchange for loans." It notes that Ukraine's new government is showing "some signs of realizing the need for far drastic reforms. It is overhauling the central administration, and curbing its deficit spending. But," the paper urges, "[Ukraine] must do more to tackle blatant corruption, and make the privatization and energy regulation process fully transparent."

The editorial sums up: "The IMF will destroy its own reputation if it continues to lend money to a government that has consistently failed to act on the reforms it has promised. The temptation will be to lend Ukraine enough to service its own IMF repayments. Even that gesture would not be justified until Kyiv has delivered deeds, not merely words."

BOSTON GLOBE: The U.S. and its NATO allies have gotten themselves entrammeled in a Balkan tar-baby

The Boston Globe draws some conclusions in an editorial today from the unusual trip to Kosovo earlier this week of U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin. The paper writes: "In the territories of the former Yugoslavia, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Albanians in Kosovo have been killing and attacking Serbs since last spring, when NATO ended its bombing campaign against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Recently, the divided town of Mitrovica has been wracked by inter-communal violence, suggesting that Albanian and Serb Kosovars are no more willing to live together now than they were before the NATO intervention."

The purpose of Rubin's trip, the editorial says, was to deliver a message. It quotes the spokesman's public remarks in Kosovo: " 'Every time we hear another story about ethnic minorities who are abused by Kosovar Albanians, our determination to help Kosovo weakens,' and 'if the Kosovar Albanians want [the U.S.] commitment to be upheld, they have to act responsibly.' "

The paper sums up: "[The U.S.] aim is to get the attention of leaders in the Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK, in the hope that they will be so fearful of losing Washington's backing that they will clamp down on acts of vengeance or intimidation against Serbs and gypsies [Roma] within Kosovo." It commends Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's initiative in sending Rubin to Kosovo, but adds: "Nevertheless, the spectacle of American envoys trying to cajole the hotheads and thugs of the UCK into imposing order in Kosovo may be a sign that the U.S. and its NATO allies have gotten themselves entrammeled in a Balkan tar-baby."