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Western Press Review: China-Taiwan, Kosovo

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 17 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Tomorrow's presidential election in the island-state of Taiwan -- and the renewed tensions it has triggered with mainland China -- continue to evoke comment in the Western press. Some analysts worry that China's communist leadership will carry out its threats of military intervention if the election result does not suit it, while others expect -- in the phrase of one -- "a war of words, but no warships." There is also some more comment today on international efforts to reduce ethnic tensions in Kosovo one year after the end of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The U.S. must act if tensions continue to grow

Two Scandinavian dailies carry editorials on the Taiwan election. In Denmark, Berlingske Tidende calls China's recent threats of military action "irresponsible and unacceptable -- like all the similar earlier threats the mainland has made over the years."

The paper recalls: "Prior to the 1996 presidential election, China did launch missiles against Taiwan, which resulted in the Taiwanese electing the very candidate China wanted to eliminate. Should the same thing happen again," the editorial goes on, "[candidate] Chen Shui-bian, a [onetime outspoken] supporter of independence for Taiwan, will emerge victorious -- and Beijing will have no-one but itself to thank."

The Danish paper adds: "The United States is the only world power that can ensure that the relationship between China and Taiwan does not fall apart." Four years ago, it says, the U.S. sent a few aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Straits, which helped to calm down Beijing. The editorial concludes that if tensions continue to grow this time, in its words, "the U.S. must act with similar resolve."

AFTENPOSTEN: The determination of the U.S. to help Taiwan will show how serious the conflict is

Norway's Aftenposten weighs the dangers in tomorrow's vote, writing: "If the result is a victory for a politician determined to break all ties to the mainland, the leadership in Beijing appears ready to use military power to prevent sovereignty for the island state." It goes on: "What China really wants is not to allow the Taiwanese to vote the way they would like. Any democratic election decision not to Beijing's liking will be dismissed by the Communist regime."

The Norwegian paper concludes: "The kind of China that appears ready to use military power to quash a democratic election is not a China the international community wants to have as a political and economic partner. The determination of the U.S. to help Taiwan will show how serious the conflict is -- and how dangerous."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The likelihood of a Chen presidency is rising

In a commentary written from Taiwan itself, the Wall Street Journal Asia's editorial-page editor, Hugh Restall, says that the "three-way race [for president] remains close, but the opposition Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Shui-bian has gained the advantage of momentum." He adds: "The likelihood of a Chen presidency is rising, [which] makes a lot of people uneasy, here and abroad."

Restall says that, in recent years, Chen has sought to moderate his party's stand on independence from the mainland. He adds: "If China were prepared to be pragmatic, Mr. Chen would probably prove [an] acceptable negotiating partner. [He] has repeatedly advocated closer transportation and economic ties with the mainland, ties that [could serve to] allay fears in Beijing that peaceful reunification is becoming less feasible every passing year."

In any case, the commentator says, "It would be a mistake for China or the U.S. to make hasty statements about Taiwan's future immediately after the election, [because] it will take some time before a true picture emerges." If Chen wins, Restall adds, "it will be cause to celebrate democracy working as it should in Taiwan, not a cause for panic. The only real questions left," he concludes, "is whether China's leadership will have the political courage to engage Taiwan, and whether it will go on preparing for war."

GUARDIAN: To conclude that last year's NATO intervention was mistaken is illogical

In a commentary in the British daily Guardian today, Martin Woolacoot says: "Kosovo [today] is a mess, even if it is not as bad a mess as some charge. But," he adds, "to proceed these difficulties to conclude that [last year's NATO] intervention was mistaken is illogical."

The commentator argues: "Nobody ever pretended that the members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were angels, or that Kosovo Albanians were all somehow free from the faults that mark, to one degree or another, the peoples of former Yugoslavia." In any case, he says, "what the NATO countries set out to do a year ago was to defeat a negative -- the oppression of Kosovo -- not to defend an illusory positive, in the shape of the exceptional virtues of Albanian Kosovars."

Woolacoot argues further: "Those who criticize the war have to ask themselves what the state of Kosovo would be today had there been no intervention. Certainly there would have been great suffering in Kosovo, even if by now Kosovars [had resigned] themselves to continued Serbian rule." Also, he says, "Europe and America would have been shamed, and NATO would have been discredited."

ECONOMIST: Kosovo's bigger difficulties predate the war

In its current issue (dated March 17) Britain's Economist weekly also assesses the NATO air campaign one year later. Like Woolacoot, the magazine finds "the place is a mess, and not just because it was a battleground last year." It says: "Kosovo's bigger difficulties predate the war."

One such difficulty, the editorial goes on, "is Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, still in power in Belgrade and still ready to make trouble wherever he can. [Another] is the long history of hatred between Kosovo's Serbs and the ethnic Albanians they used to oppress. To these," it goes on, "may be added a familiar mixture of dissent, confusion and parsimony among those who took up arms for Kosovo last year and who must now run the place with the consent of Russia and China."

The magazine concludes: "Having taken responsibility in Kosovo, NATO must make a success of it. Failure there would risk failure on a much wider front, certainly throughout the Balkans, probably even farther afield: the future of armed intervention for humanitarian ends, no matter where, would be set back years."

WASHINGTON POST: Worse would be for the U.S. to try to fob off leadership burdens on others

The Washington Post says that U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo are now facing what it calls "a test of resolve" in cracking down on cross-border raids by Kosovar Albanian guerrillas into Serbia. The paper's editorial today describes "this [as] not exactly a welcome development, inasmuch as the United States and its allies originally came to Kosovo to protect Kosovo's ethnic Albanians."

The editorial suggests: "U.S. resolve in Kosovo has not been terribly clear in recent days." But now, it adds, "the recognition that U.S. troops have risky work to do could bolster U.S. credibility."

The paper sums up: "Achieving stability [in Kosovo] remains a component of the broader task of stabilizing southeastern Europe -- and, by extension, Europe as a whole. From the point of view of that vital American interest, the only thing worse than accepting the burdens of leadership in Kosovo would be to try to fob them off on others."

NEW YORK TIMES: It is disheartening that the U.S. must now confront the KLA

The New York Times, in its editorial, discusses the same U.S. troop action under the title, "The Albanian Challenge in Kosovo." The paper writes: "Unless the[ethnic Albanian] guerrillas are forcibly disarmed and turned away from the border, their actions could embroil NATO in an unwanted new war with Belgrade."

The editorial describes the guerrillas' actions as Kosovo's "most acute problem" today. It says this: "U.S. entreaties to stop the violence seem to have had little effect. It is disheartening that the United States, which went to war in Kosovo to protect Albanians, now must use its military forces to confront the Kosovo Liberation Army and its armed offshoots."