Straits Talking

Straits Talking

Straits Talking

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 17 2000 3:00 AM

Straits Talking

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji used the occasion of Saturday's Taiwanese general election to raise the level of rhetoric over reunification. With pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian gaining momentum, Zhu warned in Wednesday's China Daily that "China will not tolerate the 'independence of Taiwan' and that the Chinese people are ready to shed blood and sacrifice their lives to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their motherland." Zhu reiterated that China seeks "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan, "But we absolutely do not promise giving up the use of force."

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

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A Taiwanese Cabinet member responded by telling the Hong Kong Standard that China "has no right to say anything about our election." A Standard editorial said it would be a "mistake" for Taipei to "underestimate Beijing's resolve to achieve unification," concluding, "To most Chinese, the basis for reconciliation is recognition of the one-China principle. To achieve this, whoever is elected as Taiwan's new leader must eventually agree to this principle." Writing in Toronto's Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee called the one-China principle a "diplomatic museum piece," which no longer works because "one side does not believe in it any more." Gee suggested self-determination for the Taiwanese: "[T]he United States and other Western countries should make it clear to China that whether or not Taiwan reunifies with the mainland is a question best decided by the people of Taiwan. That means recognizing that, for all the good it may have done in the past, the 'one China' policy is dead."

A leader in the Guardian of London described China's recent conduct as "mystifying when the predictably negative impact of its sabre-rattling on US relations is considered." Beijing's "bellicosity" may well blackball its World Trade Organization application and rubber-stamp Taiwan's request to buy advanced weapons systems from the United States. An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune concluded, "It is not in Taiwan's interest to provoke Beijing unduly, nor in U.S. interest to see the status quo upset by depriving Taiwan of defensive weapons. Least of all is it in China's interest to risk its economy and its international reputation, and the possibility of humiliation, on a fratricidal adventure against Taiwan."

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post offers extensive coverage of the Taiwanese race. Lien Chan, the candidate of the Kuomintang, which has ruled since 1949, is said to be "having difficulty exciting voters" and compares poorly with his mentor, President Lee Teng-hui. James Soong Cho-yu, who split from the ruling party in 1999, has the support of "mainlanders"—Chinese-born Taiwanese and their descendants—but "has not fully recovered from allegations about misuse of funds when he was a senior KMT cadre." Chen, the momentum candidate, would probably have trouble dealing with Beijing because of his pro-independence stance and, given his party's lack of experience at the national level, might have problems governing effectively. A survey reported in the SCMP shows that only 2.5 percent of Taiwan's citizens wants independence right away, whereas more than 75 percent is in favor of maintaining the status quo. Interestingly, 36.9 percent of poll respondents described themselves as Taiwanese, 10.7 percent as Chinese, and 46.8 percent as both.

A Times of London package described the "public anxiety" about the "flood" of asylum-seekers to Britain. According to the Wednesday coverage, focus groups rank asylum as the third most important issue after health and education. An alarmist anti-Gypsy piece from a correspondent in Romania described "kitsch palaces" being built there on the proceeds of Romanian beggars in London. "Remittances are now flowing in from the Gypsy beggars who have gone to Britain to benefit from housing allowances and financial benefits." An op-ed stressed that asylum requests are up all across Europe, that Britain is "a favored destination for what are often professional gangs because of its generosity, language, reputation for tolerance, and the fact that the backlog of asylum applications means that an immigrant is guaranteed an average 17 months on benefits before even an initial decision is made." Still, the asylum issue poses an image problem for Tony Blair's government: "The impression grows that Labour has been overtaken by the chattering-class concerns of 'Tony's cronies'—protecting the rights of homosexuals and Romanians."

London's Guardian broke a journalistic taboo Wednesday when, for the first time in more than 70 years, it published a transcript of the "parliamentary lobby"—the briefing session for reporters whose beat is the House of Commons—verbatim and with full attribution. Because of a government policy change, newspapers are now "free to tell readers what is being said on behalf of the government and—importantly—who said it. No more hiding behind archaic euphemisms or vague appellations." The paper admitted—with complete justification—that readers might find it "a touch on the dull side." (See for yourself, here.)

The cloned piglets weren't the only porcine newsmakers this week. South Africa's Independent reported Thursday that a Dutch company is negotiating with European cosmetics manufacturers to supply them with "a mineral and protein-rich algae grown on pig dung." The algae is already used in many products, including lipstick, face cream, and body lotion. The piece's subhead said it all: "Don't lick your lips."

According to a Web poll by one of Britain's leading undertakers, "Angels," by Robbie Williams, is the song most Brits would like to have played at their funeral. The Guardian revealed that other nominations for the honor included: "My Heart Will Go On," by Celine Dion; "Who Wants To Live Forever," by Queen; the Monty Python ditty "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"; and—a favorite at cremations, perhaps—"Great Balls of Fire," by Jerry Lee Lewis.