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Western Press Review: U.S.-China, Kosovo, Israel

Prague, 2 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With the completion today of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Beijing, the state of U.S. relations with China is the subject of some commentary in the Western press. Other topics touched upon by commentators and analysts are the prospects for peace in Serbia's troubled Kosovo province and Israel's current problems in southern Lebanon.

FINANCIAL TIMES: There is much inconsistency in U.S. policy

The Financial Times of Britain explores what it calls the "Chinese puzzle" in an editorial. The paper says that "the relationship between the U.S. and China is [currently] in one of its mood swings, with the presence in Beijing of Madeleine Albright...seeming to highlight how little the countries have in common."

The editorial goes on: "There is increasing U.S. concern with China's acquisition of military technology and a justified anger at [its] treatment of dissidents. For the Chinese," the FT adds, "the U.S. is interfering in its 'internal affairs' by raising the dissidents' plight and by considering a plan to upgrade Taiwan's missile defenses....The list of unresolved issues is long, and the pressure for a quick agreement comes from the need for the two countries to sign something when Zhu Rongji, the premier, visits Washington early next month."

For the FT, "the difficulties in the Sino-U.S. relationship raise questions about Washington's [so-called] policy of 'engagement:'" It asks "Why be generally conciliatory if the results include a build-up of [Chinese] missiles aimed at Taiwan and a human-rights record that remains appalling? Even with engagement," the paper concludes, "there is much inconsistency in U.S. policy....Policy becomes unpredictable when politicians in both countries choose to make the relationship the target of a domestic political debate."

NEW YORK TIMES: American criticism of China has seemed increasingly hollow and ineffectual

The New York Times finds that "a disturbing pattern is developing in the Clinton Administration's relationship with China. The more Washington seeks to broaden its agenda with Beijing, the more harshly China treats its democrats and dissidents."

The paper's editorial continues: "In the face of a new wave of political repression in China, President [Bill] Clinton and Secretary...Albright must do more than repeat stale complaints and then change the subject to trade. Americans will not support a policy of engagement and improved relations with China if the price is American inaction on human-rights abuses."

The NYT goes on to say: "Albright talked bluntly about the dismal [Chinese human-rights] record in her meetings with Chinese officials Monday, as she has done before. That seemed sufficient when China's conduct was improving, but as President Jiang Zemin has tightened controls on political expression in recent months, the American criticism has seemed increasingly hollow and ineffectual."

The paper suggests that "Washington can act more forcefully on human rights by sponsoring a new United Nations resolution on Chinese abuses in Geneva later this month. Last year, for the first time since 1991, the U.S. did not support a resolution condemning China before the UN human-rights commission in Geneva. The Administration hoped that this gesture would encourage Beijing to ease political repression. [But] American silence on the issue this year would be unconscionable."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The U.S. human rights report has lost its political effectiveness

The U.S.' policy toward international human rights in general, as well as toward China in particular, comes in for some strong criticism today in a commentary by Stefan Kornelius in Germany's generally pro-U.S. Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Writing from Washington, Kornelius says that the "State Department's annual report on human rights [issued last week] has come to the point where it does the United States more harm than good."

"The report," he argues, "covers every country of the world, but very few of them take it seriously. Most countries --in a best-case scenario-- are slightly amused at its self-righteous preaching, but they usually just dismiss it as an American peculiarity. In a worst-case scenario, though, the report seems to confirm the cliche of a naive America --a sort of a country-bumpkin super-power-- and that can lead to anti-Americanism."

The commentator adds: "When countries like China can brush off justified criticism of their human rights abuses with the simple argument that the U.S. --which is indeed full of injustice and brutality-- refutes every criticism of itself, that's a cheap and easy way out for China. That alone should be ample reason for the U.S. Government to end its moral crusading and get back to serious politics. The United Nations or Amnesty International can take up the cudgel and issue their own --credible-- report on world-wide violations of human rights, but the U.S. report has lost its political effectiveness."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Slobodan Milosevic has outfoxed the West

The Los Angeles Times carries three separate commentaries on Kosovo. One is by former U.S. ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter, who calls last week's "suspension of the Kosovo peace talks in France a bitter blow for the NATO alliance." He writes: "Once again, Yugoslavia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, has outfoxed the West. Once again, the allies have made bold threats designed to bring the Kosovo fighting to a halt, but they have proved hollow. Unless the talks slated to resume March 15 produce success, NATO's 50th anniversary celebration at a Washington summit in late April will be overshadowed, marked by failure to stop a conflict on its doorstep."

Hunter says further: "Concern about the impending summit produced the first problem for allied strategy in the Kosovo negotiations. After a year in which they mostly temporized in the face of conflict, the allies put new energy into diplomacy and military threats in major part because of the risk that the NATO summit would be marred by continued killing in the Serbian province. Thus it appeared that the peacemakers were more interested in procuring a settlement than the war makers."

He concludes: "Over the years, Milosevic has proved adept at judging when NATO means business. Last October, the allies did agree to use air power against Serbia, and this helped produce a short-lived cease-fire. But most allies were relieved that they did not have to act; now that conflict has resumed, there has been little inclination at NATO, as some commentators put it, to 'act as the [Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK's] air force.' Milosevic understands this lack of allied will and has been unimpressed by the movement of massive allied air power to the region."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Rambouillet sounds like a recipe for war

A second LAT commentary, by Britain-based analyst Anthony Borden, says that "after 17 days of intense negotiations [in Rambouillet] and [many] NATO bombing threats against Yugoslavia, the prospects for a deal looked bad. 'Peace is not an event,' [U.S. State Department spokesman James] Rubin had declared to the media about noon. 'It's a process.'"

That, Borden continues, "was an extraordinary statement from the very people who had contrived the whole Rambouillet peace 'event' in the first place. The conference had been rushed through a month ago in the aftermath of the Racak massacre [of ethnic Albanians], with much of the hard preparatory work for a peace deal replaced by the threat of cruise missiles."

He writes further: "In the worst interpretation... Milosevic has won again. Where only a few days ago, air forces were mobilizing for attack, he has slipped the noose while agreeing to nothing at all. Moreover, he has confirmed, yet again, the West's support for his key political goal of maintaining the Yugoslav borders. A few good weeks of bloodshed on the ground before the next talks could do nicely to stoke Albanian militancy and burst their fragile consensus."

"And if that goes," Borden adds, Milosevic will be "fully off the hook. Indeed, the Rambouillet talks appear to have confirmed the political pre-eminence among the Kosovo Albanians of the UCK hard-liners, while the leading role of the pacifist wing led by Ibrahim Rugova, who appeared to have been a non-factor at Rambouillet, seems fully over. It sounds like a recipe for war."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: It is critical not to forget the continuing repression of the Serbs by Milosovic

The last commentary on Kosovo in the same paper is by U. S. analyst Susan Blaustein, who argues that the West should "encourage [and] support Milosevic's [Serbian] foes." She writes: "With Serbs and ethnic Albanians warily moving toward a peace agreement for the ravaged province of Kosovo, it is critical not to forget the continuing repression of the Serbs by Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic."

The commentary continues: "If his past behavior is any guide, Milosevic will not accede to a peace agreement brokered by the international community without making his own people pay for it. Each time he has promised to lighten up on Kosovo, promises he has invariably broken, he has cracked down on freedoms inside Serbia, crushing virtually all remnants of independent thought there."

Blaustein also says: "Now, members of the Serb democratic opposition fear that their dictator, caught in an end-game with the international community over the presence of a NATO force in Kosovo, will again punish his people for each concession he is forced to make. Moreover, they worry that the international community, as after the Dayton [Bosnia peace] accords, will view Milosevic as a guarantor of any new agreement and, in the name of stopping the killing in Kosovo, will turn a blind eye to whatever non-lethal oppression he may inflict at home."

NEW YORK TIMES: Either we patrol a fence or build a fence

New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman today asks, "Should the U.S. get involved in Kosovo? The answer," he says, "is a qualified 'yes.'" He argues that the U.S. does "have a strategic and humanitarian interest in not allowing this Kosovo-Albanian conflict to get out of control."

Friedman cites "Balkan expert Herbert Okun [, who] likes to observe: 'Bosnia implodes, Albania explodes.' There is real reason to believe that if left untended, the Kosovo problem will suck in Albanians from four surrounding regions --Macedonia, Montenegro, northern Greece and Albania-- in ways that will be highly de-stabilizing, lead to a large number of refugees, infect Greek-Turkish relations and sour intra-NATO relations. You cannot care about the future of NATO, and the stability of southern Europe, and then say we have no interest in Kosovo."

The commentary concludes with another question: "Can [the U.S.] actually make a difference at a reasonable cost? Only," says Friedman, "if both parties accept some version of the peace deal that has been offered. But if the parties are simply too committed to testing their strength, or not exhausted enough yet, or too caught up with their own fantasies, or too divided to make a decision to accept this peace deal, then we cannot make a difference at a reasonable cost and we should not interpose ourselves on the ground. We should focus instead on building a firewall around this conflict to prevent its spreading....Either we patrol a fence between the warring parties --if they are ready to stop fighting-- or we build a fence around them, if they are not."

WASHINGTON POST: Israeli leaders have chosen not to respond to a growing sentiment in Israel

Turning to Israel's troubles in southern Lebanon, two analysts --one U.S., one French-- disagree today over whether the Jewish state should withdraw from an area that has cost it scores of lives over the years. In the Washington Post, Middle Eastern expert Judith Kipper says: "Once again, the grief-stricken faces of Israeli families who have lost a young soldier in southern Lebanon are on the front page. An Israeli brigadier general is killed in a bombing attack. For what are these sacrifices being made, Israelis ask."

She goes on: "Israeli leaders have chosen not to respond to a growing sentiment in Israel that its self-styled 'security zone' in southern Lebanon is a no-win situation. Israelis tend to forget that Hizbollah as a militia did not exist until Israel's ill-conceived invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This militia, established to resist Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, is directly supplied by Syria with arms from Iran delivered to Damascus."

Kipper adds: "Hizbollah's leadership has repeatedly stated that the militia's resistance to the presence of the Israel Defense Forces in southern Lebanon will continue until Israel withdraws. When that happens, they say, there will be no need for a fighting force, implying that the militia will be disbanded as other Lebanese militias were following the Taif agreement in 1989. Iran publicly concurs with this position. Why," she asks, "has Israel refused to test that possibility?"

DERNIERES NOUVELLES DALCASE: The problem is insoluble

In the French regional newspaper Dernieres nouvelles d'Alcase , foreign-editor Jean-Claude Kiefer sees the matter differently. He writes: "Every electoral campaign in Israel --the one coming up on May 17 is no exception-- turns on the security issue. That's hardly abnormal for a country that has been either overtly or covertly at war since its creation [in 1948]. Unhappily, however, [Israeli candidates'] incendiary phrases are matched by acts of terrorism [from the country's adversaries]. The result is an infernal cycle of violence and repression." Kiefer continues: "That was the case in 1996 during [Israel's so-called] 'Grapes of Wrath' Operation in southern Lebanon, which ended in [an unintended] massacre of innocent [Lebanese] civilians in Cana. It is still the case today....The problem is insoluble. The more the Hizbollah provokes, the more Israel gets into deeper and deeper water...The solution, no doubt, lies in Damascus [which controls the Hizbollah by remote control]."

He concludes: "The first step would be an Israeli-Syrian peace accord, which of course implies the restitution of the Golan Heights [taken by Israel in the 1967 war] to Syria, then the pull-out of all Syrian troops from Lebanon....One might as well ask for the impossible! [But] in the Middle East, peace must either be everywhere or there won't be peace anywhere."