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Western Press Review: From The Sino-Russian Treaty To The Genoa Summit

Prague, 19 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to assess relations between Russia and China in the wake of the signing of a treaty of "friendship and cooperation" between the two nations earlier this week. Other topics addressed include the evictions of Chinese citizens as a part of Beijing's preparations to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the European Union's takeover directive, the euro common currency, and the summit of the G-7 nations plus Russia that begins tomorrow in Genoa, Italy. There is also discussion on the situation in Chechnya, with reports of mounting violence against civilians in the republic, and Russia's closure of the once-independent NTV television channel.


In the "International Herald Tribune," political analyst Robyn Lim writes: "China and Russia say the friendship treaty they signed this week is not a new military alliance and is not pointed at anyone. The first statement is at best a partial truth, the second is not even that. [Moscow] and Beijing, which have consistently if clandestinely violated international arrangements to prevent nuclear and missile technology from spreading, seek the moral high ground on arms control to drive a wedge between the United States and its [European] allies."

Lim continues: "The false notion that the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty is preventing a new arms race is useful for distracting attention from how China's large purchases of advanced weapons and military technology from Russia are destabilizing East Asia. Strapped for cash, Russia is selling China increasingly sophisticated military equipment. [Russian President Vladimir Putin] may not be too bothered by the prospect of a U.S.-Chinese conflict over Taiwan. But [he] is playing from a position of weakness."

The commentator says that arming China is highly dangerous for Russia: "The Chinese armed forces are acquiring more sophisticated weapons than those in Russia's much depleted military. Moscow tries to preserve a balance by also arming India, China's rival." Lim concludes that "because of its weakness, Russia is a growing menace."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says: "Last year a disaster struck the 700 families of Pinggu, a hilly county on the eastern outskirts of Beijing: The city's Olympic 'beautification program' began. Municipal officials and police suddenly evicted the residents from their homes. Property developers then swooped in to demolish houses, shops and other small businesses."

The editorial goes on to say that "no less than eight towns in Beijing's western suburbs, where some new Olympic facilities will be built, have been bulldozed to rubble since last year. The residents there, like those in Pinggu, have been promised alternative housing or compensation. Many have yet to receive it, and those who have received it complain they are worse off."

The paper concludes: "There is little doubt that Beijing's hosting the 2008 Olympic Games will be a boon to China's struggling economy, and increased media attention may very well force Beijing to improve its shameful human rights record. But given the undemocratic nature of the communist regime and the ruthlessness of its approach to eminent domain, many more of China's citizens will soon share the fate of Pinggu residents."


In a commentary carried by "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Richard Painter says that the European Parliament was right to reject the EU proposed takeover directive and to "decide that European directors should not be subjected to more restrictions on defenses against hostile bids than their American counterparts."

Painter goes on to say that the directive's most controversial provision was "a 'strict neutrality rule,' which would have required directors of target companies to refrain from implementing any defenses against hostile takeover bids without first obtaining permission at a formal shareholder meeting." He says that this provision would have disadvantaged European companies -- particularly with respect to takeovers by U.S. companies -- and that "despite the European Commission's strive for uniformity, a strict neutrality rule would have a very different practical impact in different member states of the European Union."

Painter writes further: "For the time being, however, the Parliament has acted rationally in rejecting a strict neutrality rule that is inflexible in its restrictions on directors' actions and that puts companies [at] a competitive disadvantage in the market for corporate control. When the [European] Commission sends a new directive to the Parliament, this new directive should [allow] directors to deploy defensive measures that are reasonable. The new directive should, however, also give shareholders an opportunity [at] the earliest time possible [to] veto defensive tactics. This way," he says, "shareholders will have the final word, but until shareholders have spoken, directors will have the flexibility [to] defend the company."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," economic analyst Arthur Laffer writes: "This week the leaders of the [G-7 countries plus Russia] are convening to ponder the economic problems of the world. The Japanese meltdown, the energy crisis, and development aid are all high on the agenda. But the topic that should take precedence over all others is the drastic depreciation of the euro vis-a-vis the dollar. If something isn't done soon to reverse -- not just stop -- the euro's fall, the G-8 and the rest of the world's countries are in trouble."

He adds: "By allowing the euro to fall as it has over its first few years, an expectation of decline has been set in the market. [Without] common currency reform, Euroland will experience accelerated inflation, higher interest rates and economic stagnation. Britain, simply by its proximity, is being dragged into the cauldron. Germany's [Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder, Italy's [Prime Minister] Silvio Berlusconi and France's [President] Jacques Chirac will all suffer politically." Laffer warns: "A common bad currency would be a disaster for all of Europe."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" considers the worldwide economic downturn, and says the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and the administration of President George W. Bush have not been unresponsive to the slowed performance of the U.S. economy. "The Times" notes that U.S. interest rates have been slashed repeatedly over the last year in an attempt to spur the economy and that the U.S. government is in the process of providing a tax cut.

But the European Central Bank, "The Times" goes on to say, is "a legitimate target for criticism. It is currently operating on the basis of its own form of sado-monetarism. The impact [has] been striking. If the bizarre G-8 summit in Genoa this weekend is to be anything other than a bonanza for those who manufacture barbed wire and tear gas, policymakers badly need to retake the initiative. The G-8 started life as a forum for international economic coordination and, even in an era of powerful central bankers, it can still be a major player."

The paper suggests that "leaders need to promote measures that will encourage growth and press vigorously for additional trade liberalization."


A "Financial Times" editorial says that the citizens of Europe are in "a fair old muddle" about what they do and do not like about the European Union. The paper writes that according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, "belief in the euro and monetary union is rising in spite of the currency's weakness. [There] is also strong and constant support for potentially controversial common foreign and defense policies in all the member states. On the other hand, overall belief in the benefits of EU membership is less assured than it used to be."

The editorial continues: "The most disturbing results concern EU enlargement to Eastern and Southern Europe. Overall, there is a majority in favor but not an absolute majority, [while] in Germany and France, as well as Austria, there is an absolute majority opposed to any expansion. [That] is scarcely the sort of popular support needed for such an important step, especially one with big budgetary and institutional implications. [A] bigger EU will mean an EU more distant from ordinary citizens. The lack of enthusiasm is a direct result of the failure of EU leaders to match their pro-enlargement rhetoric with serious efforts to make it popular." The paper concludes, "A forthright marketing campaign [on expansion] is needed."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," World Economic Forum communications director Charles McLean says that at the upcoming G-7 plus Russia summit, as at previous meetings, "international institutions are confronting anti-globalization protesters, violent and nonviolent, in what amounts to a battle for the moral high ground."

McLean adds that both the institutions and the demonstrators are vying for public opinion. He writes: "The difficulty is that public attitudes are shaped by news coverage biased in favor of drama and sensationalism. Dialogue, discussion and debate don't photograph well. Chaos and conflict are compelling. The result is an unholy alliance between news media and violent demonstrators that inflames peaceful protest, distorts reality, diverts attention from substantive issues and inspires further violence and mayhem."

He continues: "Global warming, the possibility of a worldwide economic recession, the persistently strong U.S. dollar, high European interest rates and the Bush administration's plans for missile defense are likely to be on the agenda in Genoa. Let's hope the reporters and photographers balance their coverage of the violence in the streets with coverage of the issues being discussed."


The current climate change conference in Bonn has received little prominence in the press. Only the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" appears to be concerned. An editorial in the paper suggests the Japanese are taking no responsibility in leaving open the issue of actually signing the Kyoto Protocol on eliminating greenhouse gases. Tokyo has been caught up in a torturous mill since the U.S. rejected the agreement, but the paper notes that Japan's assent is vital in achieving a sufficient majority for the ratification of a protocol to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide in industrialized countries by 55 percent.

The paper writes that Japan is consciously withholding its decision. In actual fact the message, as so often in politics, lies in what Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi has failed to express, notably that Japan might, in an emergency, sign without the U.S. So maybe a compromise can be reached after all, the paper says. While Europeans are gnashing their teeth as they agree to negotiate, German Chancellor Schroeder should try to convince Koizumi to sign at the summit in Genoa.


A commentary by Nikolaus Blome in "Die Welt" regarding the G-7 plus Russia meeting describes the German attitude toward anti-globalization demonstrators as being false. Blome writes that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's words sound hollow as he concedes that to demonstrate peacefully is everyone's right, and that it is also true that there are reasons for a critical attitude to globalization. Such statements reflect Germany's ambivalent politics: globalization offers Germany a lucrative share in trade and hence the Green Party, under Fischer's pressure, does not want to be overtly opposed to globalization. The moral of this stance is: "Whoever wishes to be wild and wise simultaneously, is in the final analysis no longer credible."


A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" editorial looks at the G-7 meeting and emphasizes that Italy is going to be put to the test. The closer the event, the more tense the situation, it says. The paper writes: "There is a dangerous potential, which will become apparent in this strained atmosphere of violence in the next few days. Unlike 30 years ago, this is not an attack against the constitution, but the future of an international meeting is at stake. The authorities must act with immense discretion."


In the French daily "Le Monde," Paul Barelli examines the security measures being put in place in Genoa, in order to deal with the more than 100,000 protesters expected to disrupt the meeting of the G-7 nations and Russia. He notes that a careful differentiation is being made between peaceful anti-globalization protesters and "vandals," whose participation in violent protests has been documented by the authorities and who have been blacklisted as potential troublemakers.

Barelli quotes Giovanni Vassallo, a representative from Genoa Social Forum, as saying, however, that these blacklists "were often established by the secret services, [and] are not always reliable." Barelli also notes that anti-globalization protest coordinators fear that "draconian and excessive force" will be used on the basis of these blacklists, in particular on 20 July, when a planned "peaceful encirclement" of the summit is due to be held, and 21 July, the day of the main anti-globalization protest.


Analyst Miriam Lanskoy writes in "Eurasia View," "In the last month, Russia's armed forces have unleashed a wave of terror against the Chechen population." Lanskoy goes on to say that Russia's policies in Chechnya are threatening the stability of the entire region. "The wanton brutality [in Chechnya] may also have profound implications for Russia's neighbors in the Caucasus, especially Georgia, which borders Chechnya. The Chechen conflict is breeding a climate of fear that broadly effects Russian political and public life, and enables Putin to 'rule by fear.'"

She continues: "The mass terror in Chechnya may be a harbinger of a deepening authoritarianism in Russia. That, in turn, could prompt Moscow to harden its positions towards neighboring states. Evidence of such a trend is already apparent, especially in Georgia, where Russian troops have failed to meet a deadline to withdraw from a military base in Gadauta. [Russian] authorities have complained that the Georgian government has not done enough to control the common border and prevent Chechen militants from using Georgian territory as a safe haven and resupply base."

Lanskoy notes that in light of recent Russian atrocities in Chechnya, "Georgian officials worry that they would expose Georgian citizens to similar abuses if Russian troops operated in Georgia. Top Russian military leaders responsible for Chechen operations [said] that they expect Chechen guerrilla activity to [increase]." Lanskoy says that such statements "could help lay the groundwork for a possible extension of Russian military operations into Georgia."


Also in "Eurasia View," Caucasus and Central Asian specialist Daniel Sershen looks at the effect the forced closure of Russia's NTV television station has had on the press in another former Soviet state. He says that press freedom in Georgia is facing increasing pressure following the Russian crackdown on media.

He writes: "In April, the Russian government effectively silenced the country's leading independent mass media outlet, NTV television. [The] move [has] been viewed as a critical blow to press freedom in the region. Until the seizure by Gazprom, NTV was seen as the only widely available source of independent news and commentary in Russia."

Sershen goes on to say that Akaki Gogichaishvili, anchor and editor of the Georgian investigative program 60 Minutes, detailed his own broadcast's persecution as a primary example of how Russian events have had a "ripple effect" throughout the region. Sershen says that Gogichaishvili describes his program as having played a similar role in Georgia as NTV did in Russia, often focusing on uncovering instances of abuses of power by the government.

Sershen writes: "The program's penchant for investigative reporting made it a prime target for government criticism, [Gogichaishvili] said. Georgian print media, most of which is either covertly or openly state-funded, has gone out of its way to lambaste his show." Sershen adds that "media attacks have been accompanied by court action, death threats, police investigations, and other forms of harassment directed against the program staff. Meanwhile, many of the abuses uncovered by the show have gone largely unpunished, and this combined with the government pressure has frustrated Gogichaishvili and his staff."