When last we looked in on the Chinese and Taiwanese, the president of the island was hinting at independence and provoking the mainland. As we rejoin the rhetoric in progress, it's the mainland talking tough about Taiwan, restating its position that the island is part of China -- although they split during the 1949 civil war -- and warning outside nations to butt out. Both sides would be better off cooling the hawkish language.
The latest heat comes from an anti-secession law expected to be passed at the current meeting of China's rubber-stamp legislature, the National People's Congress. The Chinese say it simply repeats Beijing's policy that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part. The Taiwanese say it is an attempt to provide a legal framework for a Chinese invasion of the island to reunite the two.
The dispute understandably makes outsiders, especially the United States, nervous. President Bush has promised to do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan from unprovoked aggression. But Washington depends on China to be host of the six-nation negotiations aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
The text of the proposed law will not be released until after it passes. That gives Beijing time to take account of worried outside reaction and tone down the language. On Saturday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sounded relatively moderate. He insisted, as expected, that Taiwan would never be allowed to become independent, but he also spoke of improving relations and seeking reunification through agreement, not war.