Of all the issues now straining relations between Washington and Beijing—the large trade imbalance in favor of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Chinese allegations that a U.S. bomber knowingly targeted its embassy in Belgrade, American suspicions of Chinese espionage and involvement in nuclear proliferation, and concerns over human rights— none has more potential for rapid escalation into armed hostilities than the standoff in the Taiwan Strait.1
The potential for military conflict now is even greater than during the standoff four years ago. In 1995–96 Beijing urged people not to vote for incumbent Republic of China (ROC) president Lee Teng-hui because he covertly favored Taiwan independence. However, whatever his hidden sentiments, Lee never publicly called for independence, whereas his major opponent, Peng Ming-min, advocated independence in the most outspoken terms. The invective heaped on Lee notwithstanding, the Chinese leadership understood that Lee was by far the preferable candidate.