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Western Press Review: Ukraine's New PM, U.S.-China, Taliban, Mideast

Prague, 24 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today covers a broad range of subjects. They include the nomination in Ukraine of a new prime minister to replace the ousted, pro-Western Viktor Yuschenko, the future of U.S.-China relations, and the recent decision by the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan to mandate the wearing of identification tags by non-Muslim residents. There are also comments on the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" finds that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's nomination of Anatoly Kinakh for prime minister is "unlikely to reassure the West about the direction of Ukraine's unstable government." Kinakh, the paper says, "is very much the president's man. He will not stand up to Mr. Kuchma's undemocratic methods."

The editorial goes on to note that both the U.S. and the European Union have "great interest in securing a democratic and prosperous Ukraine. Both recognize its strategic importance. An unstable Ukraine, impoverished by crony capitalism, would pose a real threat to the security of Europe." The paper says that while ousted prime minister Viktor Yushenko was keen to accelerate economic reforms, the International Monetary Fund has suspended aid to Ukraine until "the pace of reform picks up and some semblance of political stability returns."

The paper also says the West must "help the country without bolstering the Kuchma regime and its supporters. [Macroeconomic] aid must remain conditional on the progress of structural reform [and] more help should be given to strengthen the independent media."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial looks to the future relationship between the United States and China. The paper writes: "American planners know that the most likely long-term strategic threats to international stability and U.S. interests will probably come from Asia, where [especially] China [is] likely to seek increased regional influence." Citing a new report from the Rand Corporation, a U.S. think tank, the editorial says that Washington should maintain a "balance-of-power strategy among Asia's strongest nations, [and] prevent the rise of any single state capable of regional domination."

In addition, the paper says, the U.S. must "adopt tactics that both contain and engage China," and strengthen bilateral alliances as well as enhance security cooperation in the region. Achieving U.S. goals in the Pacific area, the editorial concludes, will require "tact as well as resolve, diplomacy and military power. [It] will take 'humility,' along with measured self-assurance."


A related commentary in the "International Herald Tribune," written by Asian-affairs analysts Scott Snyder and Ralph Cossa, focuses on what they call the "increasing likelihood of military conflict" in Asia due to the many disputed territories in the region. The analysts say that the collision of the U.S. spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet earlier this year was "probably an isolated occurrence." But they add that such jurisdictional disputes are common to the region and that China's upgrading of its military in recent years raises fears it may enforce its claims to disputed land.

In order to preserve the balance of power in the region, the analysts suggest that confidence-building measures should include a "halt to further military construction or any increase in forces stationed on disputed islands. [A] code of conduct should oblige all signatories to forswear use of force and work toward an eventual demilitarization of disputed areas, preferably with provisions to verify and enforce the agreement." They further suggest that regional countries give "advance notification of military activities."

Otherwise, they conclude, "the next crisis could force international attention to this potentially explosive issue in ways that would be detrimental to the interests of all involved."


Several commentaries today examine the recent decision by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia mandating all non-Muslims in the country to wear a yellow identification tag on their clothing. An editorial in "The Irish Times" notes that non-Muslims will wear the identity tags "ostensibly for their own protection. [They] will prevent non-Muslims from being compulsorily herded into mosques [for prayer services] by the religious police force under the direction of the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue."

The paper mocks the official designation of this force as "Virtue Police," calling it "an Orwellian title if ever there was one." It goes on to say that "the compulsory wearing of tags to identify their wearers as members of minority groups may be new to Afghanistan but evokes memories of Nazi Germany's insistence that Jews wear the Star of David on their clothes." The editorial concludes: "There are enough historical precedents to indicate that the next stage in such an extremist progression may be too horrific to contemplate."


A commentary by Pierre Marcelle in the French daily "Liberation" says that for some time now the West has fearfully observed what has been decreed by Kabul in the name of Islamic law with what the writer calls a "very Western conscience." Marcelle also notes the similarity between the Taliban's decree and the wearing of yellow stars in Nazi Germany, writing: "With this new 'yellow star,' this unbearable provocation, our conscience has rediscovered an issue that renders us powerfully indignant, and [causes us] to castigate [the guilty] once again with [even] more conviction."


Other commentaries today review the conflict in the Middle East in light of the recommendations of the Mitchell Report. In the "Christian Science Monitor," analyst Shibley Telhami calls the report "balanced" and says that it provides "the most objective assessment that we are likely to get in this difficult and emotionally charged Middle East environment."

Telhami says that what is crucially different about this report are the reasons it gives for the violence: "[The report's] verdict is substantially at odds with the conventional interpretation of the American political mainstream, which has contributed to a passive U.S. approach."

Telhami goes on: "The report clearly states that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been guilty of not doing enough to avert an escalation. [This] is significantly different from the simplistic and intellectually lazy explanation that blames all on an easy target for a villain: Yasser Arafat." He adds that the report "should ignite a change in the [existing] Washington narrative [of the Mideast]."