In China, many view U.S. as bully of Balkans

Public opinion shaped by the state-run media, which backs Milosevic

April 07, 1999|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- Through the lens of China's state-run media, Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is a "folk hero" and "Serbia is a nation which loves life," according to the Macao-Hong Kong Information Daily.

President Clinton, on the other hand, appears in a recent issue of Yangcheng Evening News with a Hitler mustache. "Who scorns human rights?" one headline asks.

In China's propaganda view of the Balkans crisis, Clinton and the United States are taking a serious beating and the results are showing up in conversations around the capital where some wonder aloud about a World War III.

Following the lead of their newspapers and concerned about enormous U.S. power, many Chinese seem to be siding with Milosevic.

"Of course, America is wrong," says a retired factory clerk named Bu standing across the street from Worker's Stadium in Beijing. "This is typical hegemonic behavior: bullying a weak country."

The broad opposition that NATO's bombing campaign has generated among many Chinese is a stark reminder of how effective the nation's state-controlled media remain and how uneasy many people feel about the U.S. role as the world's lone superpower.

Despite major technological strides, the so-called Great Fire Wall of China often prevents Internet users from reaching certain news-oriented sites on the World Wide Web. CNN is available only in some hotel rooms.

Chinese reporters have given scant coverage to Milosovic's strategy of "ethnic cleansing" or the many reports of atrocities. Newspapers print photographs of ethnic Albanians leaving Kosovo in droves without explaining what they are fleeing.

Why is NATO bombing Yugoslavia?

"This I'm not too clear on," says a 27-year-old critic of the NATO effort who works in a law firm and gives only his surname of Yang. "I think it's probably because Kosovo has an internal battle, and it has something to do with human rights."

The opposition to NATO airstrikes and the heavy criticism of the U.S. role comes at a time of strained relations between the world's most powerful nation and its most populous one. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji arrived in the United States yesterday for a nine-day state visit that he hopes can help repair the relationship.

Allegations that China stole nuclear secrets and concerns over the security of Taiwan have renewed fears that the Chinese may use their growing power to compete with the United States. The U.S. role in attacking Yugoslavia -- a sovereign nation -- and talk of a missile defense umbrella for Taiwan has Chinese leaders worried about the prospects for outside intervention in their drive to reunite with the island.

Despite the recent criticism of "Meiguo" -- or "the Beautiful Country," as America is known in Chinese -- the United States has been widely admired here for some time. When an American steps into a taxicab, the driver may congratulate him on his citizenship, reminding the customer how lucky he is to live in the United States -- a free, developed nation with high wages and the rule of law.

In a survey last spring, more than 60 percent of city dwellers said their greatest impressions of the United States related to its economic strength and technological advances.

In a recent telephone poll of Chinese in five major cities, though, nearly 70 percent said they were "extremely disgusted" with the U.S. role as world policeman.

Zhang Wei, a businessman, agrees that the United States is playing global policeman.However, he listens to Voice of America broadcasts and sees the situation differently.

"I understand it," he says, sitting on a bench next to a statue of Ronald McDonald outside one of Beijing's countless McDonald's outlets. "I know the Yugoslavian people are trying to drive the people from Kosovo."

And for that reason, he supports the attacks on Yugoslavia.

"If America doesn't do this, no one else will," he says.

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