Saturday, June 5, 1999

Beijing anniversary
is ignored in China

Bullet The issue: China blocks observance of the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Bullet Our view: President Clinton's policy on China isn't working.

CHINA muzzled all attempts to demonstrate on the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Activists were rounded up. Mention of the anniversary in the news media was banned.

Relatives of the hundreds of students who died protesting Communist tyranny could mourn only in private. The square itself, in the heart of Beijing, was inaccessible -- walled off for a construction project that has been going on for months.

But in Tung Chee-hwa's Hong Kong, the only part of China where anti-government protest is still permitted -- for who knows how long -- tens of thousands jammed Victoria Park in a candlelight vigil to remember those mowed down by the army's guns and tanks. In Taipei, legislators observed a minute of silence in honor of the protesters.

The absence of activity in Beijing contrasted sharply with the recent violent protests at the U.S. Embassy in response to the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

The regime charged that the bombing was deliberate and encouraged students to demonstrate, even providing buses from their college campuses.

The accusation was nonsense but the incident served the leadership's purpose -- to fire back at American critics of China's human rights violations, breaches of U.S. campaign spending laws and theft of American nuclear secrets. Unfortunately, the bombing fed growing nationalistic feeling in China, which the government is using to deflect criticism of its oppressive policies.

In Washington, demonstrators gathered in front of the Chinese Embassy. They read the names of the Tiananmen dead and called for the release of pro-democracy activists.

Meanwhile President Clinton again recommended that Congress extend China's most-favored-nation trade status, as he has every year -- after vowing in his 1992 election campaign to get tough with the Communist regime.

This year the recommendation was particularly awkward because it came shortly after the release of a congressional report describing massive Chinese nuclear espionage.

In a letter to Congress, Clinton acknowledged concerns about human rights violations in China but maintained that the only way to address them was through continued contact.

But one of the persistent critics of administration policy, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded that the policy "has not succeeded in making trade fairer, people freer or the world safer."

Indeed, it's hard to see any evidence that the policy of "engagement" has achieved positive results. In 1989, the Chinese demonstrated against their government; in 1999 they demonstrated against the United States, with the government's blessing.


Tsunami warnings
should be improved

Bullet The issue: Computer modeling is enabling Japanese scientists to forecast tsunami wave heights in specific coastal zones.
Bullet Our view: Hawaii should invest in this process to make tsunami warnings more effective.

HERE'S one investment the state should be making: computer modeling that enables scientists to forecast tsunami (tidal) wave heights in specific coastal areas. This is already being done, but in Japan, not here. Hawaii ought to adopt this technique. The development was discussed at a recent symposium here sponsored by the Tsunami Society.

Daniel Walker, Oahu Civil Defense Agency tsunami adviser, said Japanese computer scientists are able to model tsunamis with information on the ocean bottom's terrain and depth and the location and causes of earthquakes.

"They can actually do a pretty good job of predicting what wave heights will be at different shorelines," he said.

As the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn reported, this is vital information for determining where the most damage or flooding will occur. The existing forecast system is based on the records of past tsunamis and is much cruder.

The ability to forecast wave heights offers the potential to reduce false warnings. These are dangerous because they create a tendency for people to ignore future warnings, which could be disastrous.

Hawaii has had destructive tsunamis in modern times, particularly in 1946 and 1960 on the Hilo waterfront. But with the passage of time, people get complacent. Warnings were issued in 1986 and 1994 for tsunamis that produced only small waves that caused no damage. People who viewed these as false warnings might ignore future warnings.

Computer modeling could make the warnings more accurate and therefore more credible. Walker couldn't estimate how much it would cost to develop the models, but thought it would be less than $1 million.

That would be a small price compared to the billions in damage that a major tsunami could cause. Even a false warning costs the state about $30 million.

It's particularly important to improve forecasts for earthquakes originating on the Big Island because of the short warning time for a tsunami generated there. Walker said it could take less than five minutes for a tsunami generated by a Big Island earthquake to hit Punaluu, a popular spot for tourists.

This is something the state has to find money for, even in these tight fiscal times.

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