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Western Press Review: China, Christianity, And Capital Punishment

Prague, 13 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in today's Western press continues to deconstruct the fallout of the U.S.-China standoff over the return of an American spy plane and its crew. At least one U.S. comment takes exception to the overwhelming applause for George W. Bush's handling of his first foreign policy challenge, calling the episode "humiliating" and a "loss" for the United States. Other comments look at the modern context of Good Friday, bipartisan squabbling over the U.S. Balkans policy and why EU Commission head Romano Prodi needs a "big idea."


Commentator Thomas Friedman writes in the "New York Times" that there are three lessons from the China-U.S. crisis: "(1) When dealing with China, carry a big stick and a big dictionary. (2) This is an inherently unstable relationship. (3) Get used to it -- it's going to be this way for a long time." He adds: "China is a unique problem. It represents one-fifth of humanity. [A] cold war with Russia, a country that made tractors that were more valuable as scrap steel and TVs that blew up when you turned them on, was one thing. A cold war with one-fifth of humanity, with an economy growing at 10 percent a year, is another. At the same time, trying to collapse the Chinese regime overnight would produce a degree of chaos among one-fifth of the world's inhabitants that would affect everything from the air we breathe to the cost of the clothes we wear, to the value of our currency."


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace associate Robert Kagan and "Weekly Standard" editor and publisher William Kristol write in the "Washington Post" that the Chinese "see more clearly than we do that -- so far -- they have won and we have lost. [The] United States has apologized. And the fact of our apology is all the more humiliating because the U.S. was in no way to blame for the incident. [The] collision was not, as American officials insist, a 'tragic' accident for which no one was to blame. It was the direct consequence of a deliberate Chinese policy to increase the risks to American pilots and crew -- and to their own -- in order to achieve a military objective."

The authors add: "We can kid ourselves all we want, but we have suffered a blow to our prestige and reputation, a loss that will reverberate throughout the world if we do not begin immediately to repair the damage. [No one] should doubt that Saddam Hussein has studied this whole affair intently to see how the U.S. responds when faced with this kind of bullying. So far the lesson is all too clear: When you bully the United States, the United States searches for a way to apologize."


On the occasion of Good Friday -- the Western Christian observation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ -- an editorial in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe" says: "Most of our daily concerns here are with politics, on balance a secular activity, and rightly so. It is nonetheless true that politics can be deformed to bad ends, and in ways that force its all-too-human victims to draw on extraordinary resources of body and spirit to survive punishment for beliefs that are secular, religious or often both."

The editorial goes on to note the U.S. commission on international religious freedom has identified "significant Christian persecution in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan." It concludes: "We are reminded this week that after centuries of being ground through political mills, faith flourishes."


Britain's "Daily Telegraph" asks the rhetorical question: "If Jesus walked upon the grass of England in our own day, what end might He meet? In Britain, there is no capital punishment. [So] Jesus would not be crucified. He might, though, have to wait a long time for a trial. In our overcrowded and degrading prisons, He might have to share a cell with a mad or evil and violent man. If Jesus spoke of God, it would make Him all the more liable to attack. Jesus would be found dead in the cell one morning. Perhaps it would be made to look like suicide, hanging with an improvised noose. No one would care much. And if, before the end of the weekend, His body was gone and He was reported to be alive once more, there would have to be a public inquiry. [More] than 500 people [would] insist they had seen the man and heard Him speak before His final disappearance 40 days later. There [would be] a fierce debate on a daytime television show, in which fists flew. But the number of believers [would grow.]"


An editorial in the "New York Times" examines a modern-day execution: that of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, whose death by lethal injection on 16 May will be televised via a live, closed-circuit telecast for families of the 168 victims. The paper says: "[U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft was surely right to bar televising the execution for the general public. [This paper] opposes the death penalty for many reasons, most of which need no rehearsal here. But by publicly televising Mr. McVeigh's execution, broadcasters would be showing the very kind of act -- the taking of a human life -- for which Mr. McVeigh is being executed. The telecast would appeal to the basest instincts of the viewing public, and would inevitably coarsen our society."


Writing in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. Senate majority leader Bob Dole accuses a former Clinton administration official of "rushing" to judge the Bush administration's foreign policy. Dole says this is "annoying, particularly with respect to the Balkans."

Dole cites recent remarks by former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke criticizing the Bush administration for the failure to arrest indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Dole writes: "Who would know better than Mr. Holbrooke, since the Clinton administration watched the genocide progress in Bosnia for three years."

He adds: "There should be no disagreement among civilized persons that Karadzic and Mladic should be brought to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Bringing these two perpetrators of genocide to justice is long overdue. It is hardly fair, however, to criticize [Bush's] team for not yet having acted when the previous administration failed to arrest these criminals or even to persuade our allies to cooperate in their arrest."


A comment in the "International Herald Tribune" says that what EU Commission head Romano Prodi needs most is "a single, simple idea that defines and boosts his leadership." Giles Merritt, director of Forum Europe and secretary-general of Friends of Europe, writes: "That big idea should be telling us about his job -- what he does and what he plans to do, what he is unable to accomplish and where he believes he should be given more powers."

He continues: "Suggestions that European voters should directly elect the head of the commission have been discussed for some time. It looks possible that [this could happen in the] next European Parliament elections in mid-2004. The winner would inevitably be described as "president of Europe." Prodi, he adds, "has almost four more years in Brussels. He should use that time to ensure that his successor will be elected and will wield real political power."


An editorial in the "Washington Times" reflects on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's two-day Russia visit earlier this week. The paper says: "The German leader made clear in the first annual 'Petersburg dialogue' that if Russia wants to be in the European Club, it will need to repay its debts, honor press freedoms, and use its security forces for the stability of Europe.

It adds: "Mr. Schroeder has shown himself to be quite level-headed in his dealings with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, as has Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer. [Schroeder also] made clear that Russia's treatment of post-Soviet republics or other Central European allies who are attempting to receive membership in NATO and the EU will also be scrutinized if Russia wants good standing with the West." "Mr. Putin," it concludes, "may have dreams of a new romance, but he has not yet shown himself to be ready for a European partnership."