Friday, February 12, 1999

Chinese missiles
deployed near Taiwan

U.S. intelligence reports that China has stationed 100 or more ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan in provinces across the Taiwan Strait indicate that Beijing is trying to intimidate the Taipei government from acquiring an advanced missile defense system. The tactic could backfire.

Three years ago China fired missiles near Taiwan in an apparent attempt to influence the island's first direct presidential election. The Clinton administration responded by deploying two aircraft carrier groups. The election was held on schedule and resulted in victory for Lee Teng-hui, who had been vehemently criticized by Beijing for visiting the United States.

The recent deployment of missiles could be a warning to Taiwan against participation in an advanced missile defense system being developed by the United States. The Clinton administration recently proposed increased support for the system.

China objects that the missile defense system could be used against it, which makes sense only in the event of an attack on Taiwan. Beijing has repeatedly refused to renounce the use of force to reunify Taiwan with the mainland.

The Chinese deployment could backfire by strengthening the case for Taiwan's participation in the new missile defense system. After all, the purpose would be to deal with precisely the sort of threat that Beijing is creating.

Japan is also displaying increased interest in participation in the missile defense system as a result of North Korea's firing of rockets over the Japanese main islands into the Pacific, demonstrating an ability to hit Japan with missiles.

Taiwan is currently protected by U.S. Patriot anti-missile missiles, purchased in 1993 over China's objections, and Sky Bow missiles it makes itself. But they may not suffice for an adequate defense. China is also reportedly developing cruise missiles, which would pose another threat to Taiwan.

Beijing is trying to test the resolve of the United States and Taiwan with this muscle-flexing. The appropriate response is to go ahead with development of a missile defense system.


Elephantine problem

THE City Council has an elephant-sized problem. Despite a mammoth $130 million budget shortfall, it must come up with money to expand the elephant exhibit at the Honolulu Zoo. If it fails, the zoo could lose both of its elephants -- one of its major attractions. That mustn't be allowed to happen.

The federal Department of the Interior has warned the city that it could lose its import license for the two elephants -- both females -- if it failed to meet conditions that it accepted in order to obtain them, including providing conditions for breeding. The warning from the Interior Department arrived a year ago. Alvin Au, director of city Enterprise Services, told the City Council that the administration is taking the threat of losing the elephants seriously.

A larger exhibit area for the elephants has long been planned but deferred because of the city's fiscal problems. A $6 million exhibit has been included in the construction budget for several years, but was deleted.

Zoo Director Ken Redman told the Council the enclosure must be able to hold a bull elephant, have enough room to separate the male from the females and include a restraining chute where the animals can receive medical treatment. Au said his department is hoping for Council approval of $3 million for a scaled-back expanded exhibit. The money will be hard to find, but it has to be. Council Chairman Mufi Hannemann said, "The elephants are the heart of the zoo." Yes, and the Council must find a way to keep them.


Tobacco lawsuit

THE enormous jury award of $50 million in punitive damages against the nation's largest tobacco company to a three-pack-a-day smoker who contracted lung cancer almost certainly will be reduced or overturned, but Philip Morris Cos. will have little to cheer about. Despite the tobacco industry's $206-billion legal settlement with states in November, a stream of lawsuits by individuals is likely to present continuing problems.

Patricia Henley's attorneys asked a San Francisco jury for $15 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris but she was awarded more than triple that. The jury foreman's explanation that the panel "was very angry at the cigarette companies" was an understatement. The jury had awarded Henley $1.5 million in compensation for her pain, suffering and medical costs. Henley, 53, began smoking when she was 15. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and quit smoking in 1997.

The appellate record of smokers or their families suing tobacco companies is not encouraging to those seeking redress. The first liability award against a tobacco company was won in 1988 by a smoker's New Jersey family, but it was overturned on appeal. A Florida appeals court this year overturned a Jacksonville jury's $1 million award to the family of a dead smoker against Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.

The Florida appellate court months earlier had thrown out a $750,000 award to a smoker, saying the plaintiff waited too long after becoming ill to file his suit.

In Henley's case, the judge who presided over the trial probably will reduce the award. Even though California has repealed its 1987 law banning such lawsuits on the basis that the risks of smoking were well-known, the verdict's survival through the appellate process is far from certain.

Still, the Henley verdict is sure to spawn scores of lawsuits adding to the mounting expenses of the tobacco industry. The verdict caused the stock of not only Philip Morris but other cigarette makers to plunge. The best outcome would be that tobacco companies will be forced to raise prices so high that more potential smokers will regard them as unaffordable.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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