As tensions between Washington and Beijing spiked this week, Taiwan found itself - again - waiting quietly in the corner as the two giants argued over the future of the island, which is about the size of Maryland and Delaware.
"It's been like this for many years. What can we do about it?" Peng, a soldier who would give only his first name, said Friday from the smoggy capital of Taipei.
Precarious relations headed into further trouble on Friday with reports the Bush administration may let Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian meet congressmen during a stopover in the United States. That news added to the sense that events were piling up precariously.
China's official response to what it views as a growing list of provocations has been fairly measured, although the Foreign Ministry warned Washington things were headed down "a dangerous road."
Taiwan, an island of 23 million people, and China have been ruled separately since Mao Zedong's Communist Party took over the mainland in 1949. Beijing is anxious for unification, but most Taiwanese oppose rejoining China until it's democratic and more economically advanced.
With China still holding the American spy plane that that made an emergency landing on its soil nearly a month ago, U.S.-China relations flared up this week when Washington decided to sell Taiwan one of the largest weapons packages in nearly 10 years. President Bush then said he would use U.S. military force if necessary to defend the island.
For its part, Taiwan's government, apparently eager to avoid angering China further, said little about Bush's remarks.
Although the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act obligates the United States to sell Taiwan weapons necessary for its defense, the law does not commit U.S. forces to Taiwan's defense. Instead, U.S. policy has maintained a vague threat to China, warning that an attack on Taiwan would be viewed with "grave concern."
Despite Mr. Bush's words, Peng said he doubted that U.S. forces would help Taiwan fight to the end in a battle against China.
"The United States would give up Taiwan rather than involving itself in a long, drawn-out war," he said.
Yang Pei-hua, a salesman at a computer company, said he resents China's threats to use force to reunify Taiwan with the mainland, but that he also doubts the U.S. commitment to Taiwan.
"We should not count on the United States. Washington takes care of its own interests, not ours," said Yang as he withdrew cash from an automatic teller machine.
Others in the capital were not anxious for confrontation.
"If Beijing can stop bullying us, I'd rather side with the Chinese than the Americans," he said. "Our two economies can cooperate well, with our expertise and their mass market."
Louis Liu, a fashion designer, said he understands why Beijing maintains its threat to attack.
"I hate to see China threatenig Taiwan, but if Beijing keeps silent, they might be viewed as giving the go-ahead for Taiwan independence," he said.
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