Chilling Times

Chilling Times

Chilling Times

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 26 1999 9:19 PM

Chilling Times

There are a lot of "chills" about this week, the greatest being the chill between China and the United States over China's massive theft of American nuclear secrets. The Cox report dominated newspapers across the Pacific Wednesday as they assessed the deteriorating state of U.S.-Chinese relations. In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post implied that Cox found nothing of importance that wasn't already known. It has been known for years that Beijing has the ability to unleash nuclear weapons and that it regards this as integral to its policy on Taiwan, the paper said in an editorial. "Beijing hopes to regain sovereignty over the island by peaceful means, but will not rule out invasion as a last resort," it added. "Under certain circumstances, the US probably would help to defend Taiwan rather than let its free-market democracy be taken by force. That is where China's nuclear-armed intercontinental missiles come in. This does not mean that China intends to start a nuclear war. But it clearly wants a more credible missile force. After the alarms die down, Sino-American relations may get back on track. However, the changing missile equation will make that more complicated than ever."

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The United States wasn't spared criticism in the affair. The Sydney Morning Herald in an editorial Wednesday said it was "futile to blame the Chinese for a problem that would not be as potentially serious if the Americans themselves had been more careful." "Most of all, it would be disastrous--especially at this time of undeniably chillier relations between China and the US--to lose sight of the larger guarantee of security that comes from the present policy course, of engagement with China, through trade, diplomacy and dialogue," it added. In London, a Financial Times editorial said the United States has made itself an easy target for China's ambitious spies because of security failings that "are just the latest symptoms of a deep muddle over the direction of US policy towards China." "The US needs to be straight with China," the paper said. "That means being consistently tough on security and positive on trade. ...Yet Washington shows precious little sign of the political leadership needed for the task."

The Independent of London said the Cox report exposed "an almost inconceivably sloppy attitude" to security by the United States and showed "how difficult the West now finds it to deal with an economically and politically resurgent China." With China's acquisition of the latest American technology, the assumption that the United States will remain the world's only superpower "can no longer be so easily held," it said. The Independent concluded that "with China, the US must be fair but firm if the Pacific century is not to begin with a cold snap."

Another chill set in between India and Pakistan, where the newspaper Dawn led Wednesday with Pakistan's putting its forces on "full alert" and announcing its right to retaliate after India launched airstrikes on disputed Kashmir. But the Indian press was more interested in Sonia Gandhi's withdrawal of her resignation from the leadership of the Congress Party, which she had made when some party members attacked her for being Italian born. The Timesof India said her reinstatement has given the party "a fresh lease of life" and has set the stage "for what is going to prove a bitter, divisive and issueless election."

Yet another chill was between Egypt and Libya, whose leader, Muammar Qaddafi, failed to greet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the airport when he flew to visit him in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte Monday. On Tuesday, the Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi described this as a "deliberate" snub linked to Egypt's refusal to join other member states of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in defying the air embargo that was in force against Libya for seven years until last month, when the country handed over two Lockerbie bombing suspects for trial by a Scottish court in the Netherlands. Qaddafi sent two of his lieutenants to receive Mubarak while he waited for the Egyptian president in his tent "not very far from the airport," al-Quds al-Arabi noted. Taken aback by Qaddafi's absence, Mubarak stated that he was on a "brotherly"--meaning unofficial--visit to Libya, the paper said.

Another icy chill is between Buckingham Palace and the British tabloid the Sun. There's another British royal wedding next month--of Prince Edward, the Queen's youngest son, to Sophie Rhys-Jones, a PR girl who looks spookily similar to both the late Princess Diana and Jill Dando, the country's most popular TV presenter, who was recently murdered in London. Wednesday, Rhys-Jones was portrayed topless in a "world exclusive picture" in Rupert Murdoch's mass-circulation tabloid. It was a snap taken more than 10 years ago when Rhys-Jones was 23 and working in PR for a London radio station. She was in a car with two work mates on their way to an outside broadcast location in Spain when the disc jockey beside her pulled up her bikini top and their companion, Kara Noble, a radio presenter, took a picture of her with a breast exposed.

The Sun called it a bit of "sexy fun," but the other tabloids reported that Rhys-Jones felt "devastated and betrayed." The London Evening Standard splashed the word "Cruelty" on its front page, which was how Buckingham Palace has described it, and reported that the Sun has paid Noble a sum "well in excess" of $160,000 for the photograph, which has been syndicated throughout the world. The Evening Standard said in an editorial that "having an image like this pushed in one's face makes it a bit harder to keep the stardust sparkling in the prospect of a live televised fairy-tale wedding at Windsor next month." Another widely reported royal story Wednesday was that the Diana Memorial Fund, set up to support her favorite charities, is spending about $48,000 a month fighting an American legal action--the same sum it receives in donations from the public each month. The legal case, due to be heard in Los Angeles next March, is against Franklin Mint, the manufacturer of a popular Diana doll. The Fund claims that the doll infringes its intellectual property rights. In an editorial Wednesday, the Times of London called for the fund to be wound up, since "it is now little more than a litigating business exploiting the Diana brand name."