Slow Flight to China

Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui's offer to fly to Beijing for peace talks is not in a league with Sadat's flight to Jerusalem or Eisenhower's flight to Korea.

The two earlier flights dramatically reversed the course of cold and hot wars in the Mideast and East Asia. President Lee's Rubicon, the Taiwan Strait, won't be crossed soon.

But jaw, jaw is still better than war, war. And having the leaders of the governments in Taipei and Beijing lobbing peace-flight proposals at each other is a sensible move away from missiles lobbed across the strait. The two sides can now get back to taking practical steps beyond Taiwan's present trade and investment on the mainland.

Both Mr. Lee and China's President Jiang Zemin have proposed a summit to discuss the long-term goal of reunification. Lee places such an end to the half century of China's civil war somewhere in the 21st century.

In the past, Deng Xiaoping, who steered China in its U-turn from communism, indicated a long timetable for the reintegration of both Hong Kong and Taiwan into the mainland economy. What Lee would obviously like to accomplish is to:

1. Fend off Beijing's efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally.

2. Increase both the volume and the normality of Taiwan's business links with the mainland - trade, transport, and safe investment.

3. Keep dialogue alive to prevent future missile-rattling.

4. Calm fears of Taiwan's global business partners and stock-market traders about China-Taiwan clashes.

The whole neighborhood of Pacific Asia has an acute interest in seeing those tensions kept under control, because they influence the growth and prosperity of the region.

Without ganging up on Beijing or Taipei, those neighbors should make their interest felt.

They ought to let both capitals know they'd like to help bring about a dialogue based on each side's claim of willingness to hold a summit meeting.

There's no reason the protocol problem of Beijing's nonrecognition of Mr. Lee as head of a sovereign government should stand in the way of informal contacts to shape the future.

Notes on Beef - and Oil

On two unrelated items: cheers for UN negotiators. Jeers for an EU vote.

*The UN has finally worked out with Iraq an agreement for the sale of limited amounts of Iraqi oil. Proceeds will help feed and treat undernourished citizens. Saddam Hussein may reap some benefit. But he's still isolated. And for the future peace, there's no point in having the Iraqi people feeling abandoned and penalized by the world to the point of starvation.

*Seven of the 15 EU members voted down a modest lifting of the "mad cow" ban on British beef exports. It would have allowed export of three cattle products. Fear appears to have won out over scientific evidence. We hope EU agriculture ministers will reverse course next month.

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