International Papers

Clinton to Assad: Syria Later?

In Singapore, where Madeleine Albright met Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan this weekend, the Straits Times said Monday that U.S.-Chinese relations are now on the mend because both countries oppose Taiwan’s abandonment of the “one China” policy. In its main front-page story, the paper quoted Tang as saying, “If I were a journalist writing an article on the issue, the headline for my article would be ‘Trouble maker Lee Teng-hui.’ ” But the foreign minister also warned the United States that it must “not say anything or do anything that will fan the flames of Taiwan independence or encourage Lee Teng-hui’s separatist remarks or activities.”

Another attack on Lee was made Monday in an editorial in the Pakistani daily Dawn, which said his “two China” policy was beyond comprehension. It might be a political ploy to help his ruling Kuomintang Party, it said, but it is doubtful that this will work, since public opinion on the island wants peaceful relations with Beijing and is not united behind independence. According to Dawn, one positive factor in the crisis is the position of the United States, which “has rapped Taiwan on the knuckles for its recalcitrance.” The editorial said, “The United States would not want the East Asian region to be destabilized at a time when Washington and Beijing are in the process of mending fences. It is therefore quite possible that President Lee might, after all, be persuaded by the Americans to modify his stance and revert to his earlier position.”

The official China Daily invoked “legal experts” to justify the government’s ban last week on the Falun Gong religious sect, which favors deep-breathing exercises. It quoted Wang Liming, a Beijing law school professor, as saying that the sect had violated the human rights of its followers by telling them not to take medicine or to consult doctors. In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported that China kept the heat on Falun Gong by rounding up more than 5,000 of its members and identifying its leaders. They will be released once they make written confessions and promise to leave the sect, according to a Chinese government source.

The SCMP said in an editorial that press freedom is under threat in both the Philippines and Thailand. It claimed that in the Philippines “financial chicanery” is being employed by President Joseph Estrada to muzzle the press as he approaches the end of his first term. The Manila Times is facing “death by corporate strangulation” after being sold to a real estate developer “in mysterious circumstances,” it said. The Manila Times was forced to apologize to Estrada for a story about his alleged part in a contract award, and the journalists involved resigned in protest. Now the paper has been closed down while the new owner “reorganises” the staff. Meanwhile, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has become the victim of an advertising boycott by cronies of Estrada, the SCMP said. Thailand’s “vigorous press” could also be at risk after “an incident this month when gun-toting forces raided the Thai Post, following its publication of a critical remark about the deputy prime minister.” The SCMP said, “Only Hong Kong retains its diverse, free media; but even Hong Kong has not escaped criticism from some mainland officials and Beijing supporters who think it the duty of journalists to act as propaganda agents for Government.”

In Israel, both Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post led their front pages with the same story–Bill Clinton’s disappointment that Syrian President Hafez Assad failed to attend the funeral of King Hassan II of Morocco. “I’m slightly concerned and don’t quite understand why he didn’t come,” Clinton told Israeli journalists in Rabat. “Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well. I have been in ongoing contact with him, and was hoping to see him here and perhaps have him and [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak meet each other.” Asked if he liked Assad, formerly shunned by the United States for being a sponsor of terrorism, Clinton described him as “very experienced and trustworthy; a man of his word.” Clinton reiterated that he is optimistic about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. “I’m extremely upbeat about the peace process,” he said.

In an editorial, the Jerusalem Post warned Barak to play his cards carefully when he embarks Tuesday night on his first serious working session with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. While there are “very high public expectations of rapid breakthroughs,” it is clear that “all will not be easy and wonderful. The number of items complicating talks with the Palestinians is staggering: left-over commitments from previous agreements; questions of compliance and reciprocity; a volatile Palestinian population, which can easily be incited to violent disorders; a still-intact Hamas terrorism infrastructure; and, of course, difficult talks on the future of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, and the outlines of a Palestinian entity,” the paper said gloomily.

Ha’aretz’s editorial Monday was on the late King Hassan. “Hassan’s friendship toward Israel, and the fondness that Israelis feel for him, cannot replace a sober examination of the character of the Moroccan regime and government,” it said, pointing out that it was only during that last two years of his 38-year reign that he started to show an interest in human rights. “The passing of the reins to his son, King Mohammed VI, brings grounds for hope that the concept of kingliness will not be synonymous with dictatorship,” it added. Ha’aretz said that the change of rule in Morocco, as has already happened in Jordan and will soon happen in Syria, is part of a process by which leadership in the Arab world is passing to the next generation. It said, “The leadership is passing to young people educated by Western culture, cognizant of modern technology; people relatively free, one hopes, of the burden of the region’s violent history. This new leadership may test its relations with Israel according to modern concerns of economic cooperation, which may replace, or at least weaken, the ideology intended to perpetuate the conflict.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an editorial Monday anticipating another collision with the United States over genetically modified foods. Complaining that Australian consumers are being kept in the dark about which food products have GM content, the paper noted that the United States “regards labelling as an obstacle to free trade.” It said, “This is a serious issue which needs to be taken up in the appropriate multilateral trade forums. It must not, however, become a convenient excuse for failing to protect the legitimate interests of Australian consumers.”