Talking Peace: Two Cases

China and Taiwan play it cool. Israel and the Palestinians inch along. Not a lot is settled. But no missiles are fired.

TO paraphrase Churchill, jaw jaw is better than splashing missiles, terror bombs, mosque attacks, and ravaged villages.

Americans, dazed by the Lewinsky monsoon and concerned about approaching clouds of global economic slowdown, have understandably paid scant attention to peace talks over various key parts of the globe.

But an intense media focus on Israeli-Palestinian talks at Wye Plantation may break that public neglect.

Nations (and mediators) are attempting to remove the danger of warfare, terror, and genocide from many - but alas not all - battles around the globe.

In broad strategic terms the China-Taiwan talks just completed in Beijing and the Middle East talks nearing an end at this writing are the most important to the most people. But moving last spring's Northern Ireland settlement into practical reality, keeping Balkan ethnic warfare from spreading, and preventing an Iranian-Afghan war from breaking out affect the future of Europe and Central Asia.

Is there hope from all this Churchillian jaw-jawing? Or are negotiators just going through the motions to impress public opinion? Let's examine the two most strategically important cases:

China woos Taiwan

A vague but definite plus. When China's president talks amiably with Taiwan's semi-official representative about the meaning of democracy, nothing gets settled. But no concrete results were expected. Meanwhile both sides continue to let Taiwan's big business investors vote with their capital, establishing hundreds more new enterprises on the mainland. And the fact that a reciprocal Beijing visit to Taiwan was agreed to certainly beats another visit by Chinese missiles.

China has lately listened to a string of human rights-related visitors. It has kept hands off Hong Kong. Beijing has miles to go, but it continues to show it's aware of outside world scrutiny and standards.

Mideast tacticians

The Clinton administration won't let the Wye talks "fail" this close to an election. So small steps are likely to be taken toward the hugely difficult "final status talks" over Jerusalem, water rights, Jewish settlements, terror prevention, and Palestinian statehood.

This struggle between two tiny warring populations matters because it affects the world's main oil supply from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Caspian Sea region. And, of course, because the first two and Israel could in future engage in missile warfare.

Struggles within the huge ethnic Chinese world matter at least as much because the stability of nearly a quarter of humanity is at stake - and with it the commerce and living standards of much of the world.

The Clinton team should give itself one assignment. Don't let momentum lapse after the negotiators in Beijing and Wye go home. Washington cannot be seen to let its mind wander, as it has in past. In Beijing and Jerusalem, carefully calibrated US pressure will help to keep the jawing on track.

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