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Western Press Review: Comments Center On U.S.-China, Milosevic

Prague, 3 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary surveyed today finds European newspapers concerned with Yugoslavia's arrest of ex-President Slobodan Milosevic and with China's holding of a U.S. intelligence aircraft. U.S. newspapers focus on the China episode.


Britain's "Financial Times" says today that Yugoslavia's arrest of Milosevic is a significant move. The newspaper says, however, that the action deals only with domestic crimes. It fails to confront war crimes and crimes against humanity, which Milosevic is alleged to have committed. More, he is accused of having drawn the Serbian people themselves into them also.

In its editorial, the paper says: "[Slobodan Milosevic's] detention sends a powerful message that Serbia wants to join the international community as a law-abiding state -- and is prepared to pay the political price for membership. Belgrade knows that without international cooperation it cannot obtain the funds needed to rebuild its shattered economy."

The editorial goes on: "Admittedly, a Danube-wide river still remains to be crossed. Mr. Milosevic has been charged with corruption -- not the alleged war crimes for which the international community wants him put on trial. Many Serbs still see themselves as much sinned against as sinners during the conflicts that have ravaged the Balkans in the past decade. To admit that the former Yugoslav president might be a war criminal would be to accept the guilt of those who supported him. The country is not yet ready for such an examination of conscience."


In an editorial under the headline "The Serbian Patient," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" concurs: "As the circumstances surrounding Mr. Milosevic's arrest have shown, the real danger to Serbia's fragile democracy is not that posed by a people nostalgic for the 'good old days,' but that posed by those die-hard cronies who are still at large. The people themselves must begin coming to terms with their past very soon and must learn to admit their shared responsibility for the atrocities of the past decade. Because the longer the Serbs are allowed to play the role they love best, namely that of the victim, the more difficult it will be for them to shed it."

The German newspaper adds: "That's why Mr. Milosevic and his most important accomplices must be convicted not just of graft, but of the war crimes they committed against the people of Croatia, Bosnian Moslems, and the Albanian population of Kosovo. And the best possible place for such a trial is the tribunal in The Hague."


Writing from Belgrade in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," commentator Bernhard Kueppers focuses on Milosevic's lawyer and the likely nature of the former president's defense. Defense lawyer Toma Fila challenges the legality and independence of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Kuepper's commentary does not reflect Fila's saying anything about Milosevic's guilt or innocence of the war crimes and crimes against humanity for which the court has indicted him.

Kueppers writes: "Defense counsel Fila, who likes to promote himself as a patriot, has challenged the legality and the independence of the UN war crimes tribunal several times. He questioned it as far back as 1998, during an international conference, long before the UN tribunal at The Hague had indicted Milosevic."


A "Wall Street Journal Europe" editorial comments on the aftermath of a collision in international airspace of a U.S. intelligence aircraft and a Chinese fighter plane. The newspaper says in effect: You could see this coming.

The editorial says: "The status of the downed U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane and its crew on the Chinese island of Hainan remains unknown, and the onus is clearly on the Chinese to clarify their intentions. To gauge what those intentions might be, it's worth a look back."

The paper continues: "In October 1994, a battle group led by the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was operating in international waters near China when it detected a Chinese submarine nearby. U.S. Navy planes began tracking the sub, panicking its captain, and Chinese fighters were scrambled from the mainland to come to its aid. The incident brought threats from Beijing against American forces that next time the response would be more severe."

The editorial says: "Both episodes seem to reflect a belief on China's part that it can project its force beyond the internationally agreed territorial limits of sea and airspace, and that the U.S. is little better than an interloper in the region."


A news analysis in the French daily "Liberation," says, however, that the Chinese believe they are responding to U.S. arrogance. Commentator Pierre Haseko, writing from Beijing, cites an unnamed Western diplomat as describing the affair this way: "Whether the [collision] was intended or not, the incident allows the Chinese to say: Stop [challenging us], we won't remain passive, we too have the means to respond."

Haseko adds: "That the Chinese message has been passed by a military incident involving a [U.S.] spy plane allows Beijing to put at the center of the controversy the only question that really counts for the Chinese: Taiwan." China, he says, "is seeking to stop at all costs the delivery by the United States [to Taiwan] of an ultra-sophisticated radar system [that] is capable of tracking 100 airplanes or missiles at one time."


The "New York Times" says in an editorial that Chinese military officials may be pressuring the government into its recalcitrant stance. The U.S. newspaper also says: "After less than three months in office, the [Bush administration] finds itself unexpectedly embroiled in an awkward military and diplomatic encounter with China. If mishandled by either Washington or Beijing, the mid-air collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese combat jet over the weekend could seriously disrupt relations Both sides should work to contain the damage and resolve the problems as quickly as possible."


In the you-did, I-did-not, you-did-too exchanges, commentator Isabel Hilton in Britain's "Guardian" daily says she comes down on the U.S. side. She writes: "Who exactly is to blame for the incident will continue to be the subject of argument. The U.S. claims the plane was in international airspace and that the Chinese fighters -- who have been playing such dangerous games of tag in recent months that the U.S. had already lodged a protest -- came too close. The U.S. plane is a slow-moving and heavily laden turbo-prop and not something that any pilot would throw around the skies. With the reservation that Washington has refused to give the plane's coordinates at the time of Sunday's incident, I incline to believe the U.S. version."


In an editorial, Britain's "Times" newspaper concurs: "There is almost no likelihood that the U.S. plane, equipped as it is with highly sophisticated electronic equipment, deliberately veered into the path of the Chinese fighter, as Beijing claims. No pilot would have put his crew, or the equipment, in danger by doing that. It is China's belligerent reaction to the accident, not the accident itself, that threatens to turn this into a crisis between Washington and Beijing."


The "Washington Post" expresses no doubt: China is wrong, inexplicably so. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The collision of a U.S. reconnaissance plane with a Chinese fighter provides an opportunity for China to act on its stated desire for cooperative relations with the United States. So far it has failed to seize that opportunity. There's no justification for its refusal to allow U.S. diplomats to speak with the detained air crew. Nor can there be any practical advantage to China or U.S.-China relations."