China And Taiwan: A Welcome Calm

That silence you hear across the Taiwan Strait is the sound of Beijing and Taipei making up. After missile tests, naval maneuvers, and threats, the two are easing into a rapprochement. It's a welcome development in Asia and may pave the way for calmer relations between the U.S. and China.

First came the toning down of rhetoric. Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, a vocal critic of Beijing during the recent presidential election, is now more cautious in his statements. Voices from within the new cabinet are promoting a strong pro-unification line since the missile tests last spring. Some politicians are calling for investors to "go West"--i.e., invest in the mainland. A number of Taiwan's largest companies, including the giant Formosa Plastics Group, are pressuring Taipei to smooth ties with China and allow them to invest several billions of dollars on the mainland.

To soothe China, Taipei is backing off from its bid to enter the U.N., a move toward independence that enraged Beijing. Now Taipei talks only of joining international economic organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Beijing also is toeing a softer line. The threats are gone, and talk is mostly about investments and economics, not war and invasion. There is a move to simplify airline connections between the two, and recently both sides inked a joint oil exploration deal.

Relations between China and the U.S. are also moving to a quieter footing. After months of threatening sanctions and countersanctions, an intellectual-property agreement was just signed. And President Clinton is set to renew most-favored-nation status. Without much fanfare, Beijing has agreed to sign the nuclear test ban treaty. If American politicians can refrain from stirring the pot and attacking China this election year, and Chinese officials show restraint when they take over Hong Kong in 1997, the calm may be extended into the future.

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