The prospect of China’s eventual reunification with Taiwan is, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman insists, “purely an internal affair of China’s.” A report that China has been using American scholars to send bellicose messages to Washington about Taiwan is, he says, “entirely groundless.” Yet as campaigning gets underway in Taiwan for the island’s first-ever direct presidential election, scheduled for March 23, concern is rising in Beijing over Taiwan’s hunger for international recognition and its apparent cooling toward the notion of eventual reunification with the mainland. Beijing is particularly wary about the intentions of Taiwan’s president, Lee Teng-hui, who is expected to win the election and gain a popular mandate.
Though no one will say so publicly, Chinese decision makers are looking to Washington for help. If the United States suggests in its rhetoric or its actions that it would support an independent Taiwan, Beijing believes Lee may be emboldened to declare official independence. China has said it would react with force to any such move. But Taiwan, if it thought the United States would come to its defense, might not care. On the other hand, if the United States expresses strong opposition to Taiwan’s independence, Beijing thinks Taiwan will deem independence unfeasible. Washington would like to stay out of the feud. It also would like to see continued peace in the Taiwan Strait. Which is why Beijing says America should swallow its sympathy for democrats and try harder to rein in Lee.