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Western Press Review: China Trade Bill, EU Integration, Lebanon

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 25 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary treats several different subjects today. They include China's impending entry into the World Trade Organization, or WTO -- made highly likely yesterday by U.S. congressional action -- and the European Union's problems in moving toward greater internal integration. There is also comment on Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, which was completed yesterday.

NEW YORK TIMES: Lawmakers opened the way for a more stable and productive relationship with China

The New York Times today praises the U.S. House of Representatives for "approving legislation that permanently normalizes [U.S.] trade relations with China." It says "the House opened the way yesterday for a more stable and productive relationship with that country. The Senate is expected to endorse the China trade bill soon." But, the paper says, "Congressional approval [should] be seen as a first step toward broadening relations with the Chinese and pressing them to open their country to democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

The editorial goes on: "Lawmakers who favored the bill essentially bet that by competing in the global economy, the U.S. can advance the cause of liberty around the world and help shape international commercial forces to everyone's advantage, including [U.S.] workers and Chinese democrats. They correctly judged that increased trade with China would not only expand the sale of more [U.S.] goods there but also widen the circulation of democratic values. Passage of the trade bill," the paper argues, "will n-o-t diminish the need for vigilance over China's human rights problems."

It concludes: "The world will now be looking to China to honor its trade obligations, including the lowering of barriers to foreign investment and goods. But in the years ahead, as China takes its place among the world's economic and political powers, it must also treat its own people with dignity and respect. The measure of yesterday's House action -- and [President Bill] Clinton's handling of China -- should not just be the future state of the Chinese economy but the state of Chinese society."

WASHINGTON POST: Enforcement provisions in the WTO deal are vague

A commentary by Clay Chandler in the Washington Post says that "in China, acceptance [of trade regulations] doesn't [necessarily] mean compliance." Writing from Shanghai, Chandler argues: "After the long battle over trade with China, now comes the hard part: figuring out how to make money in the Chinese market." He continues: "China's compliance record on other international accords is mixed, and a host of domestic factors could delay, or even block, implementation of commitments proffered as the price of admission to the WTO."

He adds: "Enforcement provisions in the WTO deal are vague, and China's promises to import more American farm products, [for example,] must be reconciled with long-standing fears that China might become too dependent on foreign countries for its food supply and with the already precarious economic circumstances of China's farmers. In some sectors," the commentary says, "such as entertainment and the internet, concerns about preserving political control could put the brakes on liberalization. Beijing's leaders have sought to limit the exposure of China's residents to Western pop culture and media coverage."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The congressional vote is only a short-term trade victory

A commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe by Albert Hunt sees the matter differently, calling yesterday's congressional vote only "a short-term trade victory [and] a warning shot for free-traders, the [U.S.] business community and labor groups." For Hunt, "more remarkable than the passage [of the bill] was how tough it was [for Congress] to approve a measure so demonstrably beneficial." The commentator assigns much of the blame to organized labor groups, many of which, he argues, "fiercely opposed the measure. Politically," he adds, "labor can [boast that most] House Democrats sided with them and opposed President Clinton on the China trade legislation. But," he adds, "globalization isn't going away and it deeply divides the Democratic Party. [U.S labor's] hard-line approach to trade, driven by the industrial unions, is ultimately self-destructive."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Programs of assistance are likely to be more efficacious in the long run than preaching

Also featured in the Wall Street Journal Europe today is a commentary by legal analyst Stanley Lumbar, who says: "China's impending accession to the World Trade Organization provokes much speculation about how accession will change China, and over what span of time. Initially," he writes, "Chinese institutions must be improved if they are to attain the levels of transparency and legality required of WTO members. Little attention has been given, however -- especially in the U.S. -- to the role that focused foreign assistance can play."

Lumbar continues: "China's slow climb to establishing the rule of law is now benefiting from foreign assistance provided by multilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations and other nations. The U.S. government does not give any such aid, however, because Congress has refused to provide funding."

He concludes: "Thousands of years of a very different tradition and 50 years of communism make speedy progress difficult in today's China. Well-designed programs of assistance to develop legality in China are desirable, however, even in the face of formidable ideological, structural and cultural obstacles. They are likely to be more efficacious in the long run than the preaching, moralizing and threats that have marked U.S. policy in the past."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The EU cannot steer clear of divisive topics any longer

Turning to problems within the expansion-bound European Union, a news analysis in Britain's Financial Times says the EU "has reached the end of the easy phase in its grand project to spread peace and prosperity to the east. In two years of negotiations with a vanguard six of the 13 countries queuing for membership," write Tony Barber and Robert Graham, "[the EU] has deliberately steered clear of divisive topics. It cannot do so any longer."

"Tomorrow," the analysis goes on, the EU "opens talks with the six -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, and Cyprus -- on a range of controversial issues including budgets, free movement of people and, probably, border security. As might be expected, tensions are surfacing." It adds: "Last week, EU governments tried to resolve their differences over the priorities for the negotiations. For Germany and Austria the issue was free movement of people, for France border security east of accession countries and for Spain money."

As for the candidate countries, the analysis says, they "are relieved that more talks of substance are under way and are likely to increase pressure on the EU to name dates for the end of negotiations for at least the vanguard six. Their ambitions to join in 2003 are likely to be thwarted. The year after," it concludes, "is a possibility."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Europe lacks enthusiasm for the federal idea

A commentary in the International Herald Tribune by John Vinocur asks, "what price sovereignty for Europe?" He says the recent proposal by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for a federalist Europe "really means an awkward acceleration into the present of one of Europe's least comfortable issues: whether European Union members want to turn over great slabs of national power to a supranational government."

Vinocur writes further: "Fischer surely sought only to shine a light of long-range perspective though the deep gray of the European Union's discomfort with its common [currency, the euro's] performance and its plans for enlargement eastward. He acknowledged the obvious -- that anything with the word 'federation' in it would be contentious in Britain -- yet may not have fully measured the risk that pointing to the end of the road of European construction would very quickly complicate the process of getting beyond the middle."

Vinocur then goes on to note the lack of enthusiasm for Fischer's proposal in Portugal -- the EU's current president -- in France -- due to take over the presidency on July 1 -- and in other EU member states. He concludes that, "under the circumstances, this [lack of enthusiasm for the federal idea has] returned Europe to a position where it finds itself repeatedly. That is, dealing with a complex and emotional issue that no time soon will enhance the political cohesiveness the community so much wants to project."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon was bound to end this way

Commentary continues today on Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, some of it questioning Prime Minister Ehud Barak's decision to speed up the departure of Israeli soldiers form territory they -- or their Lebanese allies -- occupied for 22 years. In a commentary for the Wall Street Journal Europe, U.S. Mideast analyst Fouad Ajami writes of "Barak's gamble." He says: "It was bound to end this way: One day Israel was destined to vacate the strip of Lebanon it had occupied when it swept into that country in the summer of 1982. Liberal societies are not good at the kind of work military occupation entails."

The commentary continues: "This particular occupier had no territorial claims to stake out. There were no economic gains to be had from this dominion. Israel had come into this unhappy inheritance in the aftermath of a war that had proven much harder to conclude than its architects had assumed." He adds: "There was no way that the fall of this Israeli protectorate in South Lebanon could have been made orderly or pretty. Think of the American evacuation from Saigon in 1975: the night landings on the embassy roof, the helicopters pushed into the sea, the scramble of the Vietnamese who had been America's allies to flee the new order of things."

But, Ajami continues, if the leaders of the victorious Hizbollah guerrillas now decide -- with Syria's backing -- to "see the land across the border as 'occupied Palestine' and carry their fight into northern Israel, that border is destined to remain a place of ruin." He concludes: "Therein lies Ehud Barak's gamble. He packed up the gear, and took his soldiers home, on the bet that the Lebanese would order their own world. There was an unstated hope that Syria would rein in the chaos as it seeks to cut its own deal with Israel. But there was no assurance to be offered the Israeli towns in northern Galilee that peace would prevail and that they shall be spared the chaos that pulled Israel into Lebanon in the first place."

WASHINGTON POST: The UN, the U.S. and the many governments that demanded this withdrawal bear some responsibility now

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: "For years, other nations have called upon Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab lands. This week, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. Its civilian population should not be punished with continuing terrorism." The editorial continues: "The UN, the U.S. and the many governments that demanded this withdrawal bear some responsibility now. The UN peacekeeping force should be strengthened. The Lebanese government should assume control over the areas vacated by Israel. Syrian President Hafez Assad, who alone can ensure that there is no escalation, should be held responsible for what comes next."

Like Ajami, the paper asks what will now be the reaction of the Hizbollah and the government in Damascus that supports it. It says: "Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn't entirely in Mr. Barak's hands. Mr. Assad remains the chief power broker in Lebanon. He can restrain or unleash Hizbollah as he wishes. Syria may view this power as a useful bargaining chip. But with Israel now out of Lebanon, any excuse for cross-border attacks has evaporated."

"An infringement of the border now," the editorial sums up, "would be simple international aggression by forces that don't accept the legitimacy of the Israeli state. Mr. Barak's government has promised a tough response --including action against Syrian targets in Lebanon-- in the event that the border is not respected. The stakes," the paper concludes, "are consequently very high and very clear. It must be equally clear that Israel's decision to withdraw was not a suicidal act and that strong action in the face of attacks is legitimate."

JERUSALEM POST: There is a gamble inherent in Israel's withdrawal

In Israel itself, the English-language daily Jerusalem Post writes in its editorial today: "Among Israelis, three emotions are swirling around the closing of a chapter of the saga of Lebanon: relief, fear and shame. The withdrawal itself," the paper says, "though [carried out] under fire, went off without a hitch. But the elation of being out of Lebanon is tinged with less pleasant symptoms of the day after: the fear of the future along the northern border and shame over the suffering of our Lebanese allies."

The Jerusalem Post also sees a "gamble inherent in Israel's withdrawal -- that the Lebanese border can be made as quiet as the Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian borders [are today]. The latter two nations have peace treaties with Israel, but Syria does not -- and yet does not allow a single border incident. The difference," the paper argues, "is that, when a sovereign government is accountable for security, that government has a strong incentive to keep the border quiet. The lack of sovereign control in south Lebanon has allowed Syria and Iran, through Hizbollah, to attack Israel while escaping responsibility for those attacks.