China's dangerous game Missile demonstration: An attempt to intimidate people on Taiwan and elsewhere.

March 11, 1996

THE RECKLESS series of missile firings with dummy warheads into the sea lanes off Taiwan's busiest commercial ports is China's effort to intimidate the Taiwan Chinese out of their first democratic election for president.

On March 23, the people of Taiwan are almost certainly going to elect President Lee Teng-hui to another term. He is a native Taiwanese who leads the party that ruled China before 1949. He adheres to the legality that Taiwan is part of China. But in practical terms he is carving out international recognition which Taiwan's commercial success merits by incremental steps that frighten Beijing.

There is a second political edge to China's missile shots. They coincide with the annual National People's Congress, or rubber-stamp parliament in Beijing. At these meetings, President Jiang Zemin's firmness and control are on display, waving China's sovereignty and nationalism.

It is not only the Taiwanese but the disparate Chinese people who are meant to be in awe. Although China's neighbors may not be the intended targets, they are made nervous by it. China says it will never attack a foreign counve claims to seabeds clash with those of neighbors.

This bullying by the world's most populous, most economically dynamic and third-strongest nuclear power calls for a presidential -- not political -- approach that is too-often sacrificed in election years. The bellicosity of the new legislation on Cuba will not do for China. U.S.-Chinese relations are going to be strained by the Taiwan tension, by continued pirating of software and videos, by Chinese nuclear sales to Pakistan and missile sales to Iran. Each of these issues must be dealt with on its merits, and with an over-arching goal of harmonious relations in the long term.

Every U.S. administration since President Nixon has held that there is one China, that Taiwan is part of it and that their relations are to be worked out peacefully by them. To grandstand about "two Chinas" now would be foolish, contradicting everything that Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton achieved, only in order to anger Beijing.

Part of U.S. policy has been to arm Taiwan to defend itself. As a result, a Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan would be a military disaster for China that the Jiang Zemin regime might not survive. In the calm knowledge of that, the governments of Taipei and Washington should keep their nerve and their policies.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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