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Western Press Review: The Chinese Dragon Celebrates

By Don Hill and Alexis Paposotiriou

Prague, 1 October 1999 (RFE/RL) - Several Western commentators join China in marking the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic, but with a difference. The Westerners focus less on China's achievements than on the cost of the successes.

The Times, London, says China has made remarkable progress. In an editorial, the Times mentions reduced hunger, higher living standards, and burgeoning technology. It is this new Chinese dragon, says the Times, that the Chinese leaders now need to fear.

The editorial puts it this way: "With growth faltering and domestic demand stubbornly flat, the hardest reforms lie ahead. Zhu Rongji, the prime minister, knows what has to be done, starting with a massive restructuring of banks and loss-making state enterprises. But that would cost jobs, adding most of the 30 million working in subsidy-gobbling iron ricebowl factories to 100 million peasants already unemployed. So China's leaders, fearful of chaos, hesitate; and so do the once-enthusiastic foreign investors. The more China modernizes, the more clearly is its potential stunted by politics. And as the country dices with recession, its leaders appeal increasingly to nationalism. It is a dragon, once loosed, that can be hard to control."

Writing from Washington for the International Herald Tribune, David Shambaugh says in a commentary that China's advances have been immense but that survival of the republic is in doubt. Shambaugh is director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University.

He writes that many have predicted the fall of China's Communist Party, and have proved wrong so far. The writer concludes with this, however: "As China's rulers enter the next millennium, they are plagued by fragile political legitimacy, a vacuum of values in society, and failure to articulate a convincing or coherent vision of China's future in the world. It will be interesting to see if the People's Republic lives to celebrate a 100th anniversary."

The time has come, writes U.S. Representative Sander M. Levin in the Washington Post, to bring China into the World Trade Organization, known as the WTO. He says the move would be beneficial for the rest of the world by making China more accessible to trade and it would change China in profound ways. Levin is a member of Congress in the same political party as President Bill Clinton. He is a member of the House of Representatives Ways and Means subcommittee on trade.

Levin writes this: "China is not only a source of vast opportunities, but also increasingly a competitor." In Levin's words: "China's accession to the WTO will not only change China; it will change the WTO. The integration of the world's largest developing economy into the WTO requires that the administration address the issue of the rightful place of labor standards in trade negotiations and agreements in this fall's WTO conference in Seattle."

From London, The Guardian also contends in an editorial that China's communists must embrace reform. The editorial warns that Communist Party dominance will be but a fleeting moment in what it calls "the vast sweep of Chinese history."

A New York Times editorial summarizes China's modern advances as follows: "Ordinary Chinese citizens now enjoy higher standards of health, nutrition, education and personal comfort than at any previous time in the Middle Kingdom's long history. Beijing is also reclaiming its status as a great world power for the first time since foreign imperialists began imposing humiliating concessions on the Manchu emperors a century and a half ago." But the editorial adds this: "These gains have come at a terrible and continuing cost."

The editorial calls on China's rulers to free their society. In the words of The New York Times: "In the long run, the answers to many of China's problems lie in greater public accountability through wider democracy, from the lowest levels of village government to the highest rungs of power in Beijing. To maintain the political stability and economic prosperity it boasts of today, the People's Republic of China will have to find room for the unscripted voices of China's people."

Protests in Serbia and the violent crackdown by forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has also caught the interest of Western commentators. From London, The Independent denounces the violence. The Independent's editorial concludes: "The use of violence shows that Mr. Milosevic does not feel as secure as his stonewalling indifference to discontent may make him seem, (and) he will be the loser in the end. Official violence brings only short-term comfort to the oppressors. It brings long-term comfort to the oppressed."

From Budapest, German commentator Boris Kalnoky describes in Die Welt the anatomy of the maneuverings that forced the crackdown. As he put it: "For a total of eight days, the Serbian police force in Belgrade and elsewhere looked on languidly as daily demonstrations brought cities across Serbia to a standstill. But then, in Belgrade this weekend, they hit back with a vengeance."

When the government remained, in Kalnoky's term "strangely cool," the Alliance for Change opposition group, as the writer puts it: "then decided to change tack; their planned march on the Milosevic home was designed to force the regime to show its ugly side. In that sense the plan came off. (Democratic Party leader Zoran) Djindic wants to see 100,000 on the streets of Belgrade. When that has been achieved, the opposition hopes, an avalanche of popular protest will truly have been set in motion."

In Greece, commentary tends to concentrate on issues close at hand. The most immediate of these is struggling Greek-Turkey rapprochement. A commentary yesterday in To Vima by A. Papachelas suggests that the Greeks and Turks have outrun their governments.

The writer says this: "Who would have believed it? Suddenly the main problem in Greek-Turkish relations is the great euphoria, and unbridled expectations for stunning developments. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said on Tuesday that the adoration between the two peoples is out of control. In Athens, the prime minister's aides express similar concern and are trying to bridle the dynamism that Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has created." ss