All quiet in the Taiwan strait Election over: China's bellicosity boomeranged, yielding perhaps to common sense.

March 26, 1996

THE VOTERS OF TAIWAN gave a lesson in democracy to the autocrats of Beijing. President Lee Teng-hui won 54 percent of the vote against three opponents in the first presidential election ever held in any part of China. Without the threats and military bullying against him, his vote total would have been far lower.

The election was followed by calming noises from both sides. Beijing ended its military exercises and did not announce any more. Mr. Lee's regime announced it would think about direct trade links to the mainland. Until now, the $24 billion Taiwanese private investment in China has been routed through Hong Kong.

A Chinese official even suggested that "a high-level summit" might be managed at some international gathering both sides attend, rather than keeping contacts in the pseudo-private sector. A more or less equivalent Taiwanese official suggested that reunification could take place as soon as four years -- requiring only a China-wide presidential election, which presumably is out of the question.

It's worth noting that even China's dissidents did not champion democracy for Taiwan. It's equally worth noting that although President Lee's government exchanges ambassadors with any country willing, it still pretends to be all China and has a commission on the affairs of its Tibet and Mongolia dependencies. Even Beijing recognizes that Mongolia is independent; Taipei does not.

Beijing said that Mr. Lee was scum and a traitor and belonged in the dustbin of history. But that was last week. "We believe the door to negotiations is still open," its foreign ministry spokesman said this week. What Beijing learned is that the wisdom of the revered, 91-year-old Deng Xiaoping is no longer a useful parameter for policy because it stopped a couple of years ago while events have marched on. China's leaders have to think things through anew, whether they wish to or not.

Someone in President Jiang Zhemin's camp in Beijing -- probably either himself or potential rivals in uniform -- was precisely wrong in prescribing intimidation to rectify relations with the Taiwanese. Better relations based on dignity and respect between the two Chinas is the way forward for both -- especially since they agree anew that there is only one of them.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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