Just in time for President Bush's trip to China next week, Beijing unveiled a new Taiwan policy. The Bush administration should remain levelheaded and resist the temptation to reduce diplomatic and military support for Taiwan in exchange for improved Sino-American relations.
This latest policy still insists that Taiwan is a part of China and eventually must be annexed, using roughly the formula that was applied to Hong Kong and Macao. But now Chinese leaders express a conviction that increasing economic integration will bring about a kind of "natural unification." To hasten the process, they may soon remove lingering obstacles to direct transportation links and even invite formerly shunned members of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party to visit.
The new policy is certainly an improvement over the previous vicious name-calling and saber-rattling. Its tenets sound reasonable. But in fact the concept of natural unification is a self-serving delusion bound to disappoint those in Beijing who see reunification on the horizon.
The new policy sounds reasonable because cross-strait economic integration is unquestionably taking place. Since 1988, about 40,000 Taiwanese firms have invested more than $50billion in China. Several hundred thousand Taiwanese citizens now live at least part of the year in Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, where they run their own schools, stores, restaurants and factories. Meanwhile, young Taiwanese back home look increasingly to China as a new economic frontier.