Taiwan, China Play Chicken Again

China has once again threatened Taiwan with war if the island nation states the obvious: that it's already independent.

Officially, Taiwan and China (and the US) still subscribe to a "one China" policy. The reality, however, is that Beijing is leaving the Taiwan issue to a future generation, as long as the "breakaway province" pretends it will someday unite with the mainland.

But being the vibrant democracy that China isn't, the Taiwanese refuse to live that fiction. And they have a president, Chen Shui-bian, who's moving to change the Constitution and allow referendums that might result in an independence declaration.

With a presidential election due in March, Mr. Chen is riding high in polls. China's war threat this week was aimed at scaring the Taiwanese into not voting for him or supporting his constitutional efforts.

Beijing's threat may backfire politically in Taiwan. But it also brings back memories of a US-China military standoff in 1996, when Beijing lobbed missiles near the island to influence an election that year. The US sent two aircraft carriers to the area.

Neither the US nor China can afford a repeat of those tense days. But neither can China hold back popular democracy - either in Taiwan or, let's hope, someday on the mainland.

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