Why is Taiwan's relationship with China so intractable an issue? Why, when they share common economic interests - one million Taiwanese live on the Mainland, working in some 50,000 firms in which Taiwanese have invested over $400 billion - does China aim 500 short-range missiles at Taiwan?
The run-up to Taiwan's presidential election on March 20th is one current source of tension. The incumbent, Chen Shui-bian, has initiated a referendum process that might someday be used to ask Taiwanese if they want to formalize today's de facto independence. This infuriates China.
After all, as Mao Zedong told Edgar Snow in 1936, "It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories," explicitly including "Formosa." Since then, China has sought to make good on Mao's pledge.
China's new leadership often evinces a new judiciousness and moderation in its diplomacy. But Luo Yuan, a senior colonel at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, recently declared that if Taiwan's leaders "refuse to come to their senses and continue to use referenda as an excuse to seek independence, they will push [their] compatriots into the abyss of war."