China's Interest In Taiwan

China's Leader Hu Jintao.
I'm Barry Petersen with a Letter from Asia. These pictures are from a recent military exercise by the Taiwanese military. Think of this as a video postcard sent from Taiwan to China. The message: you mess with usand this is what you'll get in return.

Except China's interest in messing with Taiwan, for the first time in more than half a century, is fading. We need a touch of history here, and then a reality check to see how China's new leadership has changed it's dealing with Taiwan.

When Mao's Communist won China's civil war in 1949, the losing nationalist fled to Taiwan and set up a parallel China, with the blessing of the US. China's leaders said if Taiwan ever declared independence, China would take the island by force. To this day it calls Taiwan the renegade province.

Professor Ken Lieberthal is a China expert and was director for Asian affairs on the national security council during the Clinton administration. "We've long recognized that the cross strait issue is, in a sense, the hydrogen bomb underneath all of East Asia," he says. "Should military conflict occur across the strait, the U.S. is likely to become involved. If there's a major U.S.-China war, everyone's anticipation of where East Asia is headed would have to be re-written and re-written into a much worse scenario. She we have long wanted cross strait stability.

Until now, the Chinese policy was about preventing independence and planning for the day when Taiwan would be absorbed back into China. Reunification was the stated goal. But in a subtle shift, China's new leader, Hu Jintao, has changed the rules.

"Hu has decided effectively that the unification is not achievable on his watch," says Lieberthal. "So he has effectively changed Beijing's policy so that now the policy is on one hand, to deter independence but then on the other hand to promote dynamic status quo."

That means more relaxed relations with Taiwan, already the biggest single investor in China's booming economy.

"This puts mainland Chinese policy largely in line with the expressed view so the majority of people in Taiwan who are asked what they want for the future, answer the status quo," Lieberthal adds. "So I think this actually has had the effect for stabilizing cross strait relations."

So despite Taiwan's recent big show of mostly American-made weapons, the good news is that at least one of the world's hot spots seems to be cooling off.
by Barry Petersen