Tweaking Beijing

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As the responses to my last post about Taiwan and China’s military spending bear out, mention of the island inflames high passions (and sometimes foaming at the mouth incoherence) in some people. It seems that the same button gets pushed regularly by Taiwan President Chen Shui Bian when he’s feeling in need of a blast of invective from Beijing to give him a boost and distract attention from his own domestic problems. Chen’s mention of the dreaded ‘I’ word
(“independence”) on Sunday brought the expected howls from Beijing (“Whoever wants independence will become a criminal in history,” Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told reporters yesterday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress.)

All fun and games for Mr. Chen, who presumably gets a good deal of satisfaction out of tormenting his critics up north. But one tweak too many and things still have the potential to go horribly wrong. As I said before, with passions so high, it would be easy for things to run out of control. It sometimes seems that all those missiles on the coast of Fujian and the hundreds of missiles the Pentagon proposes to sell to Taiwan are like the proverbial gun on the table in the Chekov play: if you see it in the first act you have to suspect someone will use it before the play ends.