Taiwan's Grandstanding Set to Heal U.S.-China Rift

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Taiwan’s loose-cannon president may be the unlikeliest of matchmakers between Washington and Beijing, yet Lee Teng-hui appears to have inadvertently healed the post-Kosovo rift. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright finally reported a thaw in relations with Beijing — which have been on ice since the Belgrade embassy bombing — when she met on Sunday with her Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. Beijing announced that a previously scheduled September summit between Presidents Clinton and Jiang, which had been in jeopardy, would go ahead following a weekend during which the U.S. firmly reiterated its support for the "One China" policy and gently chided Lee’s claim that Taiwan should be treated as a separate state. Washington’s allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations followed up Monday with a communiqué reaffirming their recognition of Beijing as the sole government of a single China.

"The controversy over Taiwan has actually managed to bring China and the U.S. closer together again by giving them something to agree on," says TIME correspondent Barry Hillenbrand. "It gave Washington an opportunity to show Beijing that the U.S. is not out to get them." That’s bad news for President Lee, of course, who had hoped to use the post-Kosovo rift to drive a wedge between Washington and Beijing. But that appears to have been a miscalculation. "The U.S. is committed to defending Taiwan from any attack," says Hillenbrand, "but the last thing it wants to do is go to war with China."