by Franz Schurmann
President Clinton and Chinese Prime-minister Zhu Rongji held their
joint press conference reporters asked the President questions about Kosovo.
What thoughts could have gone through Zhu's mind? And whatever they were
does it matter?
In one limited way we know it matters. When countries break diplomatic relations with each other they usually set up temporary quarters in a friendly embassy. It seemed natural for the Serbs to have gone to the Russian embassy. They didn't and instead went to the Chinese embassy.
If Belgrade had decided that a "long haul" war is in the cards, as Clinton has warned, then it makes more sense for them to go to the Russian embassy. But if Milosevic feels there is a chance for peace then China poses some advantages Russia doesn't have.
The biggest comes from the recent souring of Russo-American relations. Anti-American rage is sweeping through Russia. And a lot of pro-American Russian officials are now out of office, some of them sought by the police. And a Cold War II wind is blowing with what could be Russian re-targeting of missiles against NATO countries.
China's relations with the U.S. Congress and media may be terrible but they are very good with the Clinton administration. Even more than the joint press conference Clinton's forceful defense of good U.S.-China relations has won the trust of the Chinese political elites.
What counts in diplomacy above all is good personal relations. Clinton now has good ties not just with Zhu Rongji but also with China's president Jiang Zemin. But Jiang also has excellent personal relations with Yeltsin and the Russian elites. A big reason is that Jiang back in the 1950's spent several years studying in a Russian university and speaks fluent Russian.
Add to the skein of personal relations the fact that Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov has close relations with Milosevic. When he was a top KGB general Mideastern expert Primakov had many occasions to visit Yugoslavia which even today, despite its anti-Islamic attitudes, has close relations with many Mideastern countries.
If there is a will for peace among the key Kosovo players -- mainly Clinton and Milosevic -- they have to get a sense whether their adversaries mean what they say. That sense can't come from intelligence evaluations. It can only come from trusted and knowledgeable go-betweens.
Both leaders have aims going beyond their personal animosities. The U.S. side wants to put an end to the gangrenous Balkan instability because it destabilizes prosperous Western Europe and threatens what Clinton hopes will be a final Israeli-Arab peace accord later this year. The Yugoslav side wants to preserve what's left of Yugoslavia. Milosevic knows that if Yugoslavia goes Serbia itself will disintegrate.
If the China-bashers are right then there is no way China would help their American enemy. But the reality, as Clinton knows, is that at least for the next decade China needs peace and stability to develop a sustainable economy for what soon could be a billion and a half people. America is a key factor in those plans.
In that same Thursday press conference Clinton dangled some incentives before Zhu to help out on Kosovo. The previous day, in a major speech on U.S.-China relations, he had indicated that China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) was in effect a done deal. On Thursday he reiterated that stance but said that it could take the rest of the year before final details were worked out.
China has much more clout with both Russia and Yugoslavia than appears on the surface. China is big and stable with a booming economy and growing intercontinental military capabilities. It completely supports them on the inviolability of national sovereignty.
On the other hand America's position increasingly is that we now live in a world without borders.
Clinton seems to have offered Zhu Rongji a much broader deal than just entry into the WTO. Work with us, he says, to settle the Kosovo crisis and you'll be in by the time it meets next November. But if you won't or can't then I can blame your failure to get in on the Republicans. After all, he might then say, Prime-minister Zhu, it was you who said at our joint press conference we couldn't clinch the WTO deal because of "the political climate in the USA."
April 19, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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