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Western Press Review: Comments Cover On-going U.S.-China Standoff, Mideast Crisis, Other Topics

Prague, 9 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The stand-off over China's holding of a U.S. surveillance plane and its crew continues to dominate commentary in the Western press. Analysts in today's U.S. papers attempt to deconstruct the Chinese foreign policy mind-set, while supporting President George W. Bush for refusing to back down from his first international challenge. Other comments look at the Mideast crisis, trade and labor issues, Russia's NTV takeover, and the Balkans.


An editorial in the "New York Times" blames the continued China-U.S. impasse over the return of an American surveillance plane and its crew on what it calls the "hardening" of Chinese rhetoric over the weekend. The paper says: "At this point, neither Washington nor Beijing knows exactly what happened in the skies over the South China Sea on 1 April. It has not yet been conclusively established whether the accident resulted from the actions of the Chinese fighter pilot, the crew of the Americans reconnaissance plane, or both. Given this lack of information," the paper continues, "the public expressions of regret by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for the loss of the Chinese airman are appropriate and should suffice to win the release of the 24 American crew members detained at a Chinese military airfield since their emergency landing." It adds: "There seems to be an element of testing a new American president. To expect Mr. Bush to offer an apology under these circumstances reflects a poor understanding of American political realities."


In the "Washington Post," analyst Fareed Zakaria also comments on the stalemate. He writes: "[Nationalism] in China has come to mean one thing more than any other -- standing up to the United States. China's Communist Party is in the middle of a leadership succession, and none of its potential leaders wants to look soft. This is a problem that will not pass. The regime's vulnerability has made it embrace anti-American forces that it may not be able to control." He adds: "China has begun a military modernization and is studying low-tech methods of battling a high-tech army -- what military planners call 'asymmetric warfare.' The U.S. planes hugging the Chinese coast -- always there to watch, listen, and learn -- must represent a constant reminder of America's overwhelming superiority. The People's Liberation Army must view the current crisis as an opportunity to strike back."


Eliot Cohen, a strategic analyst, also comments on the standoff in the "Wall Street Journal Europe." He says: "There are two interpretations for any crisis in international politics. The first is as a clash of rationally calculated interests conducted through the medium of disciplined armed forces, controlled by thoughtful statesmen who have misjudged their adversaries a trifle, but who basically know what they are doing. The second is as the damnable consequence of blunder compounded by pride, anger, and muddle. This [second interpretation] better explains the current U.S. standoff with China." He adds: "The most important lesson of the Hainan episode is that the Defense Department's strategic review -- which is reported to urge refocusing of force structure on the requirements of Asian operations -- is on target. Russia, today, is a great power in name alone. And conventionally armed rogues in the Middle East are not the threat they were in 1990. China, by contrast, is a rising power with whom American interests will clash."


Contributing editor -- and world chess champion -- Garry Kasparov comments in the "Wall Street Journal Europe": "An objective historical overview of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict suggests that there was never a chance for peace." He continues: "Israel today is a success story, and not only by the modest standards of the [Mideast] region. Its very existence is a nagging, constant reminder to neighboring Arab despots that they keep their own people in miserable conditions. [If] the 'bloodthirsty Jews' were not identified as responsible for all that's wrong, the man on the street in Cairo, Amman, Damascus, or Gaza would look at the vineyards of the Golan Heights, at the fast-growing Silicon Valley of Haifa, and at the bustling thoroughfares of Tel-Aviv -- all erected from scratch in the middle of the desert -- and would turn his anger where it belongs, against his corrupt and ineffective government."


A "Washington Post" editorial looks at the inclusion of labor standards in international commercial accords against the backdrop of Jordan's King Abdullah's current visit to the U.S. to promote a bilateral trade pact. The paper says: "The idea of including labor standards in trade deals is often caricatured, as though it means requiring developing countries to adopt the same standards that rich countries enjoy. [But] the labor provision in the Jordan agreement merely says that each country must enforce its own labor laws." It adds: "If other developing countries agree to similar labor provisions, that is all to the good. [But] it is doubtful whether trade sanctions are a useful way to force improvement in labor standards. The United States has failed to stamp out illegal sweat shops in cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Would foreign sanctions improve American compliance? Not likely."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" titled "NTV to CNN" looks at the potential loss of Russia's only independent nationwide network. The paper says: "If Russia were a true market economy, the best outcome would be clear. [Partially state-owned gas monopoly] Gazprom would sell to the consortium [led by U.S. media magnate Ted Turner], make a profit and focus its funds on its investment-starved core operations. Any attempt by the government to interfere would meet strong public resistance. But in Russia," the editorial adds, "life is not so simple. Gazprom, despite its big (38 percent) state shareholding, is a fiefdom controlled by its managers. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is threatening to curb their powers. Gazprom managers may feel they need a television station to air their views in what could be a tough political battle."


"Washington Post" foreign editor David Hoffman writes on NTV in a commentary carried by the "International Herald Tribune." He says that in 1992, when television journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov, his producer Oleg Dobrodeyev, and businessman Vladimir Gusinsky forged the casual agreement that led to the founding of NTV, they were three "pioneers" who "didn't have any idea where they were going. They didn't even agree on what the call letters NTV would stand for."

He adds: "But it is no exaggeration to say that what [they] started was one of the most important chapters in the excruciatingly difficult, generations-long task of building democracy in the new Russia. [The] Soviet system was a one-way communication: The leaders decided what they would tell people. [But] when [then Russian President Boris] Yeltsin and a small band of his military men stumbled into war [in Chechnya] in late 1994, NTV was there, and the results were devastating."

Hoffman continues: "The truth of the [first Chechen] war came out. Russians saw war as they had never known it on television. When soldiers were taken prisoner, NTV showed them, although the government said there were no prisoners. When Mr. Yeltsin said the bombing of the presidential palace in Grozny had stopped, NTV showed the bombs still falling." He goes on: "The amazing feat was not only the coverage, which itself was extraordinary, but the way the audience reacted. [The] public opposition to the war and the pressure on Mr. Yeltsin to find some resolution in 1996 as he campaigned for re-election were in no small way the result of NTV's coverage."


An editorial in the British "Times" says today's visit to Russia by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder "will help to define two of Germany's most important foreign relationships -- one with Russia, and the other with the United States." The paper says: "Herr Schroeder's intention was never to be controversial. He will meet the Russian president in Saint Petersburg, the old Russian capital. It is not only Mr. Putin's hometown but was also founded by Peter the Great, the first Russian ruler to make public his love for all things German. [Schroeder's] hope is that this seductive setting will remind his interlocutor of Germany's historical role in modernizing Russia, and of Russia's reciprocal tradition of sharing its vast natural resources with Germany."

The editorial adds: "Two items on the agenda" -- the NTV issue and support for a Russian-American summit -- "will warm American hearts. [The] center-left chancellor is still learning the tough, competitive, ideological language being used today by new incumbents of both the White House and the Kremlin. It is in Germany's own best diplomatic interests for him to listen a while longer."


In a commentary for the French daily "Le Monde," three analysts -- Antoine Garapon, Pierre Hassner, and Oliver Mongin -- write of peace prospects in the Balkans. They say that, to "combat the temptations of a Greater Albania or a Greater Kosovo, it is imperative that Macedonia assure real equality among its citizens. Western powers," they urge, should "support a large-scale plan for social reforms that would not only change the official status of the Albanian minority, which [they say] now suffers from discrimination, but also financially aid the majority Slavs." They argue that "far from giving in to the [ethnic Albanian] 'extremists,' such measures would allow legitimately elected Albanian and Slav representatives to cooperate in a collective Macedonian project."

Broadening their remarks to the entire region, the analysts write further: "The peace process in the Balkans has new prospects, thanks to more moderate policies among leaders chosen in recent elections. That means that [the even more] recent renewal of violence is taking place on a more open diplomatic scene and not one of political stalemate."

They conclude, however, that "to take advantage of this new situation, those who act on behalf of the 'international community' [must agree on] common general principles dealing with the question of territorial sovereignty. [A] regional dialogue that does not dodge the political questions of democracy and sovereignty must be established. All the rest is mere cynicism."


Finally, commentator Andreas Whittam Smith in Britain's "Independent" daily examines the latest scandal consuming British royalty and asks: "What is the royal family for?" Smith writes in the wake of revelations that Queen Elizabeth's daughter-in-law tried to exploit her royal status to win a business contract. He says: "The extended family of the monarch has no constitutional standing apart from what it borrows, so to speak, from the sovereign. [Although] they have titles such as prince and princess, duke and duchess, earl and countess, and although they expect to be addressed as his or her royal highness, they are essentially ordinary citizens."

Smith adds: "The royal family as an institution -- as distinct from the monarchy -- has become unviable. Surely the moment when the Queen's daughter-in-law trapped herself into giving an interview to the 'News of the World,' in which she was forced to comment on her husband's sexuality, must mark the end."