If the war on terror can be said to have a silver lining, it's that the United States has steered clear of conflict with China. Before 9/11 neoconservatives in Washington were more worried about an eventual war with Beijing than with Baghdad, and in 2001 the Pentagon declared China an emerging threat. But since 9/11 the government in Beijing has made common cause with the United States by squelching terrorist activity on China's western borders, and has cooperated with American efforts to contain North Korea. With global commerce fueling its stupendous economic growth, China is becoming integrated into the community of nations as never before—as best evidenced, perhaps, by Beijing's successful bid to host the 2008 Olympics.
This easing of tension has been especially welcome on the matter of Taiwan—the island that China still considers a renegade province. Trade and investment have blossomed so quickly across the Taiwan Strait that China has become Taiwan's largest export market, and also the destination for some $70 billion or more in Taiwanese capital. To some, these developments suggest that time is on the side of a peaceful solution to the problem of Taiwan's disputed status.
But the reality may be quite the opposite. In fact, a number of analysts in both America and East Asia believe that military conflict between China and Taiwan is not only likely but imminent. Just how imminent depends partly on the Taiwanese legislative elections scheduled for December 11. If pro-independence parties gain a majority in the legislature, the stage will be set for a confrontation, producing a hellish prospect for U.S. foreign policy: on top of its ongoing military commitment in the Middle East, the United States may face a Chinese attack against Taiwan, a fragile democracy that America has promised to help protect.