One China, one Taiwan

Symbols: Taiwan's new passport and government emblem suggest move toward independence.

February 11, 2002

THE REST of the world may be comfortable recognizing two Chinas, but both Beijing's communist rulers and their Kuomintang nationalist enemies on Taiwan believe there is only one China. And Taiwan is an integral part of it.

The trouble is the once-powerful Kuomintang, which fled the mainland in 1949 when the communists took over, lost power in Taiwan as well two years ago. And the island's increasingly powerful indigenous population doesn't want to be part of China; it is striving for independence.

Under President Chen Shui-bian, whose roots are firmly on the island, the economic powerhouse is taking steps to forge a distinct identity separate from China.

Consider:

The island's passports, which traditionally have only contained the name "Republic of China," have added the following declaration in big letters to their cover: "Issued in Taiwan."

Taiwan's government has removed a central element from its emblem -- a big blue map of mainland China.

Kuomintang kingpins in Taiwan are so angry their legislators want to retaliate against the president with big budget cuts.

For decades, they have promised that it's only a question of time before they return to the mainland to reclaim power in China.

Beijing, too, is upset. It regards Taiwan as a renegade province, not a different country, and sees the island government's moves as dangerous separatism.

In reality, none of this makes much difference. Most of the world's governments deal with two Chinas. Consumers, too, see no difference. Even the Beijing and Taiwan governments deal with one another, through a variety of back channels. The Taiwanese independence advocates now threaten to upset all these pragmatic arrangements by denying China's hegemony over their island.

It will be an interesting drama to watch.

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