International Papers

Looking Forward

Europe’s midweek papers have their sights set on middle-distance, predicting the weekend’s news. Several looked to Sunday’s election in Yugoslavia, and the consensus was that President Slobodan Milosevic will ignore the result if, as expected, he does not win re-election. The Times of London observed:

What is so bizarre about the election campaign is that it has all the trappings of a Western democratic contest, with opinion polls, political advertisements and debates in the press. Yet the accepted wisdom is that Mr Milosevic will not respect the ballot in the likely event that he loses.

The unusual unity behind opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica was noted, but so was the support Milosevic enjoys in rural areas and the advantage that controlling the state media gives him. Britain’s Guardian reported that “State controls on the price of staple goods have also cushioned the realities of a weak economy. But years of war and corruption at the top have disillusioned many urban voters.” The Independent pointed out that the West has done little to “persuade Serbs that the argument is with the regime, not with ordinary Serbs.” It cited “a few absurd exceptions—like Asphalt for Democracy, where the [European Union] helps to repair roads in cities administered by opponents of Milosevic.” An op-ed in the Times said the EU has promised to lift sanctions and provide aid to rebuild Yugoslavia’s infrastructure if Milosevic is ousted and that the U.S. State Department is providing $77 million to help Milosevic’s opponents (for more on this, see this International Herald Tribune story provided by the Washington Post). Nevertheless, it said:

If you have bombed a man for 78 days and he’s still in place, there is not much more you can do to get him out. … The harshest punishment available has already been delivered. Its target, now an indicted war criminal, has every incentive to cling to power by illegitimate means if necessary. If he does, there is little the West can do.

The next battleground: In Spain, trouble is expected Saturday in San Sebastián, where both sides of the Basque separatist issue have organized marches. According to El País, Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar urged all citizens in favor of peace to attend the protest. The Basque separatist group ETA has killed 12 since ending a cease-fire last December, but the government seemed to regain the upper hand last week when 30 suspected ETA members were arrested. Nevertheless, there was concern about the government’s methods: The Times of London reported that in an attempt to combat the kale borroka­—the Basque separatists’ equivalent of the Palestinian intifada—the administration would introduce legislation to allow “children as young as 14 who take part in street disturbances, fight police, burn buses, firebomb property or terrify people in the street [to] face sentences of up to ten years.” However, the proposal appears to contravene human rights accords signed by Spain.

Permanent trade traumas: The U.S. Senate’s vote to establish Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China also turned editorial writers into seers. The Hong Kong iMail agreed with President Bill Clinton’s claim that PNTR will “promote economic freedom in China”—”up to a point.”

For the estimated 200 million “middle class” in the coastal cities and economic zones of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou it might, but what about the hundreds of millions of Chinese farmers who will have to compete with US grain producers and apple growers? What about the employees of state-owned enterprises? What kind of economic freedom does PNTR provide for them?

The South China Morning Post, also of Hong Kong, was generally more optimistic, though it conceded that, “[i]f joining the trade body has been a difficult task, so will be operating from the inside as a leading member of this trade rule-making and rule-enforcing agency.” It declared:

For China, WTO membership will strengthen the hand of reformers who insist that fundamental economic changes are needed to achieve the growth and create the jobs necessary to stave off social unrest, while advancing the country as a global power. The gradual application of WTO terms should inject new competition into the economy, helping its most modern sectors while speeding the demise of portions that cannot keep up.

It’s almost like being there: For the ultimate armchair Olympic experience, check out El Mundo’s animated simulation of a race between the 100-meter freestyle gold medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and the meet’s slowest swimmer, Eric “the Eel” Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Sheehan, a former foreign correspondent, suggested that the failure of the world media’s “intellectual touris[ts]” to deliver a single “Cultural Insight” into Australia might be corrected by the Zen of Vegemite. For those not in the know, Sheehan explains that “Vegemite is a foul-smelling, extremely salty, black paste originally made from brewery waste.” The piece, unlike the product, is delicious.