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Western Press Review: After 11 Days, U.S. Crew Members Head Home

Prague, 12 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in today's Western press focuses on Beijing's agreement yesterday to release the 24-member crew of a U.S. surveillance plane that collided with a Chinese fighter last week. Almost without exception, the commentators applauded the resolution of the 11-day standoff as a success of U.S. diplomacy, and said President George W. Bush performed admirably in his first test of foreign policy mettle.


A comment in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" says that the resolution of the 11-day U.S.-China spy-plane standoff "must be chalked up as a success for the United States." Former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley and international relations professor Arthur Waldron write: "During the period that the Chinese changed course 180 degrees, from seeking concessions to seeking an exit, the U.S. calmly followed procedures. First the ambassador, then the secretary of state, took the spotlight -- and briefly the vice president -- to deliver an authoritative 'no' to the demand for apology. Skilled State Department wordsmiths cobbled together a precisely crafted letter that gave China cover, but no more. President Bush choreographed all of this, mostly behind the scenes, and has now earned our applause. One can thus hope that, as with the market correction, a base has been built for healthy progress in the future. In Chinese-American terms that means setting aside hostility and military confrontation, and looking to our common interests in development and exchange."


An editorial in Britain's "Independent" says the "face-saving" deal that led to the release of the 24 U.S. crew members is about more than a simple apology. The paper writes: "Taken literally, the 'very sorry' [in] the letter from [U.S. Ambassador to China Joseph] Prueher to Tang Jiaxuan, the Chinese foreign minister, does not amount to the acceptance of responsibility demanded by China. But it does bespeak greater contrition, and it is possible that the published text is accompanied by unpublished assurances, perhaps to delay the mooted sale of an American missile defense system to Taiwan, or even to limit U.S. surveillance flights close to the Chinese mainland (consider for an instant the American reaction if Chinese spy planes routinely patrolled off California.)"


The British "Guardian" says future fights with China will not be as easy for the U.S. An editorial in today's edition says: "For all its military power, the United States does not have the ability to conduct its international activities unconstrained by other nations and other considerations. When it came to the crunch over the spy plane, Washington had relatively few cards in its hand. Any threats that it made -- like rearming Taiwan, or going cold on free trade with China, or even canceling President [George W.] Bush's October visit to Beijing -- would have been double-edged swords, and would not have brought the U.S. boys and girls home."

But, it adds, "any satisfaction which some may feel at this proof of the limits of American power needs to be set against the dangers. Chinese power is a very threatening force too, both internally and internationally. [There] are likely to be further confrontations between the U.S. and China -- above all over Taiwan -- which will not and cannot be so easily resolved as the Hainan stand-off now thankfully seems to have been."


An editorial in the "New York Times" says: "Beijing's approach was needlessly confrontational at times. But in the end, both governments acted sensibly to conclude the affair before it seriously damaged their overall relationship." It adds: "Facing its first major foreign policy challenge, the [Bush] administration performed well. It managed the episode in a restrained and measured way, keeping its own rhetoric muted and urging Congressional Republicans to do the same, even when the Chinese military leaders used harsh and belligerent language."

It concludes: "While [next week's] difficult discussions [between American and Chinese officials on the cause of the collision of the U.S. and Chinese planes] are going on, the United States should refrain from conducting reconnaissance flights near China. [Resuming] operations while the two sides are trying to agree on relevant ground rules would be provocative."


An editorial in the "Washington Post" says: "It was good to see the government of [Chinese] President Jiang Zemin accept the compromise offered by the Bush administration, by which the United States expressed sorrow and regret but did not accept responsibility for the collision of a surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea."

It adds: "Though not yet entirely clear, the facts so far suggest that the root of the episode lies in increasingly aggressive attempts by the Chinese military to challenge U.S. aircraft conducting surveillance missions in international airspace along the Chinese coast. The United States has rightly stated that those flights are justified and will continue. What is missing here, perhaps, is the kind of common acceptance of rules of the game -- and provisions for emergencies -- that once governed the jockeying between U.S. and Soviet ships and aircraft during the Cold War. [Yet] the recent statements, and actions, of the Chinese suggest less interest in such pragmatic cooperation than in forcing the United States out of the air and sea lanes of the South China Sea -- an unrealistic and unacceptable ambition."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says: "The European Central Bank's arguments [behind yesterday's decision to leave interest rates unchanged] do not stand up. Monetary policy is all about balancing the risk of inflation against the risk of unnecessarily depressing growth. Since last October, when the current interest rate of 4.75 percent was set, the balance of risks has changed radically. If the interest rate was appropriate then, it cannot be appropriate now."

It adds: "The euro-zone is not about to fall into a recession. But in an increasingly tough global environment, it needs greater monetary support if it is to act as the engine of world growth. The ECB's repeated failure to provide the support demonstrates that the institution is not working as it should."


As the fate of arrested former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is decided, commentator Helena Cobban writes in the U.S. "Christian Science Monitor": "Serbian democrats won a wonderful victory when, through democratic means, they ousted Milosevic from power. Now, their most important task is to strengthen their country's culture of democracy and tolerance, as they set about rebuilding from a decade of war damage. How best can [the West] help them do that? What combination of truth commissions, war crimes courts, people-to-people diplomacy, investment for region-wide rebuilding, and other mechanisms can help Serbians and their neighbors get where they now need to go?"

She says that healing, not judgment is the answer, adding: "The Bush administration's decision to free up [aid] to Belgrade was wise. But Washington should do much more. Secretary of State [Colin] Powell would do well to follow the playbook written by an earlier American general-turned-statesman who well understood the value of investing in regional stabilization: Gen. George C. Marshall, author of the Marshall Plan."


Jim Hoagland comments in the "Washington Post" that "revolutions and their aftershocks devour their old as well as their young." The remark is based on an interview Hoagland conducted earlier this month with 73-year-old Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi. Hoagland sees the Georgian president as a shadow of his former self. He writes: "I had come primed to hear the Georgian president denounce Russian subversion and bellicosity. [But] in our conversation Mr. Shevardnadze deliberately absolved Mr. Putin of responsibility for the abrupt escalation of problems. He announced that he and Mr. Putin have agreed to negotiate a new framework accord to stabilize relations between Moscow and Tbilisi."

He adds: "Now 73 and the survivor of three assassination attempts, an alert and focused Mr. Shevardnadze shows surprisingly little bitterness or frustration about finishing his career in what may be, at best, a holding pattern. He knows that will not change his legacy of having touched highs and lows unimaginable to other politicians of his time."


Finally, a comment in the British "Guardian" addresses the wider issue of euthanasia in the wake of The Netherlands' decision Tuesday to legalize the practice. Michael Rennie, a professor of physiology, writes: "Last year, a 67-year-old [British] patient discovered after leaving hospital that a junior doctor had written a 'do not resuscitate' order for her without consulting her or her husband. [A British advocacy group for the elderly] claimed to know of more than 100 similar cases."

He adds: "In Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, medical paternalism is being beaten back by health care professionals with much more open, flexible, and humane attitudes than their predecessors. Nevertheless, unlike in the U.S. where most doctors accept the primacy of patient autonomy and the overriding will of the family in life or death decisions, doctors in Britain have traditionally regarded decisions concerning whether to resuscitate as their primary responsibility, even their right."