International Papers

China Down 

Sunday’s mid-air collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. spy plane—which left the Chinese pilot missing, presumed dead, and the 24-member U.S. crew in Chinese custody—has the world press breathing hard. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said, “The continuing stand-off … is threatening to become a textbook example of how to turn a manageable incident into a fully fledged diplomatic confrontation,” and recommended that both sides “find ways to back down, compromise and move on.” The Age of Melbourne declared: “What is immediately important … is that President Bush and his advisers find a diplomatic means of recovering the aircraft and its crew that will respect both America’s desire to protect its own and China’s outrage at the infringement of its sovereignty. This incident is not worth any sort of armed confrontation.”

The official China Daily was indignant:

The Americans are clearly trying to lay the blame on the Chinese side. Intruders have thus become victims according to their rhetoric. … The United States takes much pride in its ability of policing the world. But a morally corrupt police officer has the potential to become a threat. The bad manners of American politicians is a result of their extreme self-centredness. Undisguised disregard of foreign people and foreign sovereignty is the logical result of this attitude.

The Hong Kong iMail observed that whereas the Chinese military is the “driving force behind the fierce nationalism that has been shown,” the political leadership recognizes the need to avoid further deterioration of Sino-U.S. relations. The detention of two U.S.-based Chinese scholars on the mainland and the crackdown against Falun Gong will inevitably affect the Bush administration’s impending decision on what kinds of weaponry to sell to Taiwan and could also affect China’s trade status and even its bid to host the 2008 Olympic games. Given the circumstances, the Times of London advised, “A quarrel over this incident is best not picked.”

Peru again: Back in September, when Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori called for new elections four years ahead of schedule, it was assumed that Alejandro Toledo, the indigenous shoeshine boy turned Stanford grad who many believe was the true winner of last May’s elections, would romp to victory. That was before Fujimori fled the country under a cloud of scandal and before the hundreds of secret videotapes made by former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos revealed what Britain’s Guardian described as “a web of corruption extending to senior judges, army commanders, parliamentarians, ministers, business leaders, media owners, and even talk-show hosts.” Although none of the three leading candidates—Toledo, ultra-conservative Lourdes Flores, or former President Alan García—appear on the videos, the entire political class has been tainted. If, as expected, Sunday’s election fails to produce a clear winner with more than 50 percent of the vote ( La Tercera of Chile noted that in the latest polls Toledo leads with 35 percent, followed by Flores with 25 percent, and García with 22 percent),a second-round run-off will be held in May.

The Financial Times characterized the electoral campaign as an “ill-tempered mud-slinging affair.” The London Independent reported that during the campaign it has surfaced that Toledo has an unacknowledged 13-year-old illegitimate daughter and that he tested positive for cocaine use three years ago. Flores, whose refrain is “Up with women,” is from Peru’s wealthy white elite, and she has been branded by Toledo as a “Fujimorista” with links to Opus Dei, a right-wing Catholic group. The main beneficiary of the dirty campaign is García, who returned from exile to fight the election. His disastrous 1985-90 term was marked by hyperinflation of up to 7,650 percent, a debt crisis, and the rise of the Shining Path Marxist guerrilla movement. Spain’s El País credited García’s poll success to his ability to stick to the issues while his main rivals are bogged down in personal attacks, and to position himself as the only candidate with high-level experience, a politician who has matured and learned from his mistakes. La Tercera declared, “The biggest asset in García’s political career is the short memory of some Peruvians who are willing to wipe the slate clean.” The editorial concluded that Peru needs a government that will continue the road to stability by strengthening democracy. “García isn’t the right man to do that. Nor is this the time to give him a second chance.”

The strongest link: Female British TV game-show hosts may be in the news stateside, but in Britain the papers mourned the death at age 81 of quiz show contestant Irene Thomas. A one-time chorus girl and commercial jingles singer who left school at 15, Thomas won several prestigious BBC radio quizzes, including Brain of Britain and Brain of Brains, and was described by the Times as “a mine of general knowledge and information; a walking, talking thesaurus-cum-encyclopaedia.” According to the Guardian, it took seven years of “dauntless effort” to secure a spot on the Round Britain Quiz—”and even then she got her chance only because another (male) contestant had been taken ill.” She then spent 22 years on the show, answering questions such as the one provided by the Daily Telegraph: “A Roman one added to an alternative was a dedicatee of Beethoven’s. Adding nothing gives the French recipient of a theologian’s amatory epistles. Explain.” (For those playing along at home, the answers are: else, Elise, and Eloise.)

Language matters: Clarín of Argentina celebrated the success of Spanish—now the Internet’s second language. With the growth of the U.S. Hispanic population and a law requiring Brazilian secondary schools to offer Spanish classes soon to be enacted, the article claimed that Spanish is “gaining ground” throughout the Americas. Meanwhile, an op-ed in the Moscow Times bemoaned the poor translations of dubbed movies shown on Russian television: “I recently heard the famous song ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ rendered improbably as ‘He’s so handsome that nobody can refuse him.’ ” Or how about this line from an Agatha Christie movie: “Here’s your nut case, running around with a gun and threatening to kill father!” It was translated as, “There is your pie with nut filling, getting ready to shoot.”