New York Times reporter Howard French has a good article on the growth of China as a great power, especially focusing on energy issues, that has been a hit on a number of blogs. Let me added mine to the chorus. I wish to take exception only to this paragraph:

Taiwan’s leaders believe Taiwanese democracy will outlast the mainland’s anachronistic political structure and that reunification will only come once China has become a democracy. In the meantime, most Taiwanese want to avoid unnecessary confrontation with the mainland. They have confidence that their lobbying power in Washington guarantees their security.

Of course everyone wants to avoid unnecessary confrontation! But the issue is what confrontation is “necessary.” Given that one side wants to be independent and the other side wants to annex it, confrontation is inevitable. Further, I think it is erroneous to imagine that Taiwan’s leaders what annexation once the mainland develops a more democratic political system. French goes on to say:

In other words, both sides believe it is in everyone’s interests to manage tension and to ensure neither side ever gets so close to the brink of an all-out conflict they can’t pull back. This shared understanding prevents Taiwan from becoming an issue that should ever pit China and the United States directly against one another.

I think it is far too optimistic to imagine that there will be no direct conflict because elites in all three countries have a common interest in eased tension. Unfortunately all three countries have domestic political interests to cater to that may preclude rational management of tensions. Good recent examples are the silly anti-succession law passed in China, and the idiotic clash between Taiwan and Japan over the Diaoyutai that saw Taiwan send naval units to the vicinity of the island at the behest of local politicians. Taiwan could easily become an issue that pits the two nations against one another in direct conflict. Despite commitment to stability in the short term, there is no way around the simple fact that Taiwan does not want to be part of China, and China threatens to violently make it part of China. That is a circle that cannot, alas, be squared by rational management.