Why China Is Putting the Squeeze on Taiwan

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U.S. policymakers are betting that the latest saber rattling from Beijing, which includes veiled threats of military action against Taiwan delivered to U.S. think tanks and other outside China watchers, is an effort to pressure Washington to lean harder on Taiwan President Lee Teng-Hui. Infuriated by Lee’s abandonment last month of the "One China" principle -- the convenient fiction that Taiwan and China are two parts of the same country -- China has been flooding pro-Beijing papers in Hong Kong with scare stories, as well as filling the skies over the Taiwan Strait with warplanes, in part to send a message to Taiwan’s voters, who will choose Lee’s successor next year.

The experts don’t discount the risk that this psychological warfare could by accident erupt into the real thing, but figure Beijing has too much at stake right now, including an upcoming Clinton-Jiang meeting and a long-sought deal to get into the World Trade Organization. Moreover, an international outcry over use of force would spoil the People’s Republic of China’s big 50th-birthday party on Oct. 1.