One China, two states

Lee bombshell: Taiwan leader disturbs precarious peace of fiction, without declaring independence.

July 22, 1999

RELATIONS between China and the United States are bumpy enough without Taiwan rocking the boat. Unfortunately, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui did just that last week. Beijing should keep cool by focusing on what he did not do.

He did not declare independence or rescind the half-century-old fiction that there is only one China.

What President Lee did do, conversationally with a German radio reporter, was suggest that relations between the two Chinas be put on a state-to-state basis, instead of maintained through sham non-government organizations. He suggested the former two Germanys as a model for the two Chinas. That is not a cause for war.

But Beijing threatened, as it does from time to time, to take Taiwan by force. Mr. Lee is the first native Taiwanese leader of Taiwan and the first democratically elected president of either China. When he retires next spring after 12 years in office, he no doubt wants to be remembered for something durable, such as reality.

The ruckus is disturbing to Washington, which gets along with both Chinas by pretending there is only one. The United States is committed to defending the smaller from the larger, insisting they resolve their differences peacefully.

To the extent President Lee is provocative, he is putting U.S. lives at risk. Should he keep doing that, some review of the relationship would be in order.

But sympathy is due President Lee's wish for government-to-government relations. The truth is that Taiwan not only lives, it thrives. Taiwanese investment links the two Chinas so closely that no country can hurt one China without harming the other.

Taiwan's market economy is the model for mainland communism's capitalist road. Now its democracy should become a model for the mainland as well. Then, peaceful unification would be in order.

Pub Date: 7/22/99

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