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Western Press Review: Critical Voices Assess Clinton's China Trip

By Joel Blocker and Lisa Kammerud

Prague, 3 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton winds up his nine-day trip to China today, and Western press commentators are already busy assessing its results. A few credit Clinton for having made the visit a success, but most are critical of the President's conduct.

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Clinton's task was not easy

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Josef Joffe says that Clinton "gave a most creditable performance in China...and Europeans who visit Beijing in the near future could learn a lesson or two from (him)." In a commentary, Joffe argues: "(Clinton) spent his nine days in China doing what best suits both his temperament and his instinct. He constantly advocated a both-and approach while cheerfully and skillfully sidestepping an either-or. Let no-one blame him for having done so. His was no easy task. He had to pursue both domestic and foreign policy, to persuade the up-and-coming giant to opt for reasonably reliable cooperation and to pacify --more or less-- his critics on both the Left and the Right back home in the U. S." The commentary goes on: "Clinton conducted realpolitik without sacrificing idealpolitik on the altar of coolly calculated interest. He flattered Chinese vanity without consigning human rights, democracy and Tibet to cynical silence. And he proved that both could be done without turning somersaults.... He faced up to public debate, demonstrating to his hosts in this practical manner what democracy is. So in China you most definitely can combine both what is beneficial and what is morally necessary."

IRISH TIMES: This was a substantial achievement

The Irish Times also believes that Clinton's China trip generally produced positive results. In an editorial, the paper says: "A strong tide of world politics has flowed through President Clinton's visit to China this week. New ground was broken on all the major areas discussed, including China's political freedoms and economic development, Tibet, Taiwan and nuclear weapons programs. It is clear that a new bilateral relationship is being forged which will have profound implications for neighboring Asian states and the wider international community." The editorial goes on: "Mr. Clinton found a way to express clearly his vision of how democracy and economic development are related....He also underlined effectively the universality of basic rights of association and freedom of speech and conscience. This was a substantial achievement, irrespective of the precise outcome of his encounter with China's leadership, which will only be made clear in the months and years to come."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton concentrated on concealment

New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal takes a diametrically opposed stance in his commentary today, suggesting that Clinton appeased his Chinese hosts and did not speak out forcefully enough for democratic values. Rosenthal writes: "(The) President...had no meetings with dissidents, spoke no words about political prisoners by the thousands existing on gruel and beatings, and workers by the million slaving in 're-education' prison-factories. (The) president, who proclaims love for children and women's rights, did not mention what confronts every Chinese woman --the need for official approval to deliver a child." The commentary continues: "(Clinton) arrived bearing payoff to China. He offered the chance to make Tibet disappear forever into China, without any Beijing concessions. President Jiang Zemin of China said he would talk with the Dalai Lama, maybe." And Rosenthal adds: "Clinton...concentrated on concealment. When he had the chance to use public time to speak up against the arrests of Roman Catholic and Protestant clergymen and congregants who do not accept the official 'patriotic' churches or Beijing's dictates... the president was mute. Nor did he speak of the millions who attend underground 'house churches' rather than accept Beijing's rule over God."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Clifton's kowtowing to China's 'three no's' over Taiwan is likely to set off a cycle of reactions

The Wall Street Journal Europe also is highly critical of Clinton's behavior, saying that "he managed to turn his visit into a fiasco after all." In an editorial. the paper argues: "Clifton's kowtowing to China's 'three no's' over Taiwan (no to independence, no to two Chinas and no to Taiwan's participation in any international organization for which statehood is required) is likely to set off a cycle of reactions and counter-reactions that ultimately will damage rather than improve Sino-American relations." It continues: "The issue of Taiwanese membership in international organizations is especially ridiculous....Taiwan is already excluded from presumably serious organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, though it is among the world's top 20 economies...The world's remaining super-power should be acting to curb this on-going force, not entrench it." The paper concludes: "Taiwan is now plainly a democratic nation, and has every right to determine its own future. In the end, the U.S. will not resist this principle, whatever Mr. Clinton said in (China) this week. The danger in Mr. Clinton's words is that the Chinese leaders who heard them will...turn truculent."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Clinton has sided with the dictators

An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post entitled "Siding with Dictators" expressed a similar point of view. The paper said: "The outlines of a deal are beginning to emerge. China gives President Clinton air time for his speech. Mr. Clinton says what China wants to hear on Taiwan. Then, in classic Clinton fashion, the White House tries to have things both ways, denying that U.S. policy has changed when in fact it has, and not for the better." The editorial went on to say: "When China threatened Taiwan militarily in 1996, Mr. Clinton responded with admirable resolve. But now he is trading away the human rights of Taiwan's 21 million people and sending an unfortunate signal to other democracies that might hope to rely on U.S. moral support. As a practical matter, he's also significantly weakening Taiwan's bargaining power if and when Taiwan and China begin negotiations.: The paper summed up: "Mr. Clinton has sided with the dictators against the democrats. To pretend this is no change only heightens the offense."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Gimmicks such as 'de-targeting' show a lack of seriousness

The International Herald Tribune today carries a commentary by U.S. analyst Peter Rodman, who is critical of Clinton for another reason. Rodman writes: "Clinton's agreement with China on 'de-targeting,' whereby the two sides pledge no longer to aim their missiles at each other, is the kind of agreement that brings arms control into discredit. It is unverifiable and, even if complied with, reversible within 15 minutes." His commentary continues: "The two countries are suspended somewhere between friendship and rivalry. Managing this relationship constructively requires viewing China realistically, without either panic or illusion. Gimmicks such as 'de-targeting' show a lack of seriousness."

BALTIMORE SUN: Will the door slam shut behind him?

In a news analysis in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, correspondent Frank Langfitt said that "President Clinton (is ending his) tour of China... leaving behind a big question. Will the door that opened for him to engage in an extraordinary public discourse about issues most sensitive to one of the world's most repressive regimes stay open, even a little? Or will it slam shut behind him?." Writing from Beijing, Langfitt noted that "in two unprecedented nationally televised events --first at a news conference with China's President Jiang Zemin and later speaking to students at Beijing University-- Clinton spoke out against such forbidden topics as the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Tibet, and human rights in general. Later he spoke similarly in a radio talk-show in Shanghai. By China's standards, it was an astonishing gesture to public candor." But, the analysis continued, "it remains to be seen what influence --if any-- Clinton's words and the government's decision to broadcast them will have on the lives of China's 1,200 million people. Chinese journalists, dissidents and others are divided over the broadcasts' significance. But if the decision to televise Clinton's words is a sign of growing liberalism in Beijing, most agree that greater freedom will only come slowly and in ways difficult to measure."