ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

MARCH 6, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 9

T H E  V I E W  F R O M  B E I J I N G
Speaking Loud Enough for a Home Audience to Hear

David Hartung for TIME

Amid the bellicose rhetoric flying across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing saves its angriest words for one man: Lee Teng-hui. It was the Taiwanese President, Chinese officials argue, who sank any hope of rapprochement by asserting last July that cross-Strait relations be conducted on a "special state-to-state" basis. Hardly a day goes by without China's media vilifying Lee as a "splittist" and a "traitor." In one commentary, Liberation Daily described him as "a rat running across the street with everybody shouting, 'Smack it!'" Were it not for Lee's rash statement, Beijing implies, the two sides would have little to fight over. "Our biggest concern is to keep this house under one roof," says a Beijing official familiar with Taiwan policy. "As long as we're all under it, all quarrels are negotiable. But for the selfish reason of wishing to leave his mark in history, Lee pulled down this proverbial roof."

That sense of betrayal helps explain Beijing's hardened position toward Taiwan, as laid out in last week's provocative White Paper, published by the government's highest body, the State Council. Economic ties between the two sides have flourished in the last decade: Taiwan investors have injected $40 billion into the mainland economy, and two-way trade has topped $26 billion. But polls in Taiwan show increasing alienation from the mainland and fewer people in favor of reunification on Beijing's terms. A younger generation of Taiwanese do not remember the united front that the communists and nationalists presented against the Japanese in World War II and are fiercely protective of the freedoms they now enjoy. The leaders of Taiwan's evolving democracy, attuned to such sentiment, have drifted further from their communist counterparts.

Taiwan: Off With a Bang
Fiery words from Beijing mark the start of the island's critical presidential election, but the three leading contenders continue to focus mostly on local concerns
On the Issues: The candidates share their views
Tough Talk: Beijing too has a domestic agenda
Jiang Who? Taiwan's youth couldn't care less about China
Line of Fire: Sin-ming Shaw says the posturing must stop

Hong Kong: Feeding Frenzy
Local investors go nuts for a dotcom stock that has little to recommend it other than its billionaire backer's name

Thailand: Dubious Challenge A telecom tycoon and failed pol makes another bid for office
Web-only Interview: Thai telecoms mogul Thaksin Shinawatra, the man who would be Prime Minister

Japan: Invisible Menace The growing problem of stalking is only now coming to light

China: Back to School The white-hot economy needs an increasing number of M.B.A.s

Taiwan: Balls and Brickbats
Gangsters and illegal betting send baseball into a tailspin

Taiwan: Thunder Out Of China
But the noise could disguise a peace feeler

More news from East Asia
But while Chinese officials certainly meant to send a message to the leading candidates--and to voters--not to pursue Lee's more assertive line, Beijing's fierce talk may have more to do with domestic concerns. The sclerotic communist leadership is haunted by the specter of national humiliation and international impotence in China's past. Party chieftains are still smarting over the bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade by the U.S. last May, which virtually all Chinese believe was intentional. Officials feel besieged by what is often referred to as an "international conspiracy" to stunt China's progress and even dismember the country. At home, Chinese leaders are sparring with the real and perceived threats to their power from disparate groups of political dissidents, jobless workers, marginalized farmers and Falun Gong, a meditation group that claims 70 million adherents.

At the same time, Taiwan's increasing assertiveness has exposed China's relative military weakness. Analysts doubt Beijing has the capacity to invade Taiwan and say the People's Liberation Army would pay an onerous price for trying. Clearly, Beijing needs to find a face-saving way to gain the high ground, without having to resort to force.

Above all, though, the White Paper reveals a deepening divide in Beijing over how to handle the question of Taiwan. Says Bates Gill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington: "This warning shot reflects efforts to placate those who want a tougher stand on Taiwan." If he wants to remain in power after his term expires in 2002, Chinese President Jiang Zemin will need to win the support of hard-liners who think he has been too soft toward the "splittists" in Taiwan. Will it be the litmus test for Jiang? Probably, although he faces more immediate domestic challenges: rising unemployment, corruption, Falun Gong.

In fact, Jiang may be thinking well beyond 2002. Having presided over the return of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese sovereignty--and having failed so far to turn around the economy--Jiang hopes to make his mark as China's great reunifier. The missing piece of the puzzle is the biggest: Taiwan. If Jiang cannot bring the island into the fold, he at least needs to project an image of resolve. Says an official in Beijing: "No Chinese leader can afford to appear weak on Taiwan."

That need may have pushed Beijing into a rash declaration. However seriously leaders meant the White Paper to be taken, they are now beholden to its words. "It sets a dangerous precedent," says a Western diplomat in Beijing. "It creates an option that could be used at a later date. What scares me is that now we're halfway to a deadline." Next time it might be more than bellicose rhetoric crossing the Strait.

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.