Chinas Moves Bear Watching

Opinion: The recent threat to Taiwan has ominous implications for China's promising economic partnership with the United States.

Am I alone or were other people in technology scared when China recently passed a law allowing it to go to war if Taiwan declared its independence? This doesnt sound like the China weve lately come to know and respect. And the change could have direct consequences for technology companies, along with everyone else.

Is the threatening China really the same country that just bought the IBM PC business and where Microsoft runs a big lab and hopes for big sales—someday? Is this the China of the economic miracle, where sophisticated factories turn out the worlds electronics? The China which, according to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, is propping up our massive budget deficit?

Yes, the China thats driving our balance-of-payments problem and loaning us money to pay our debts—not to mention hiring our workers and partnering with our leading tech companies—is the same China thats threatening war if people exercise their right to self-determination.

To make matters worse, the country they are threatening—and Taiwan certainly qualifies as a country—is one the United States has vowed to protect.

That vow, however, is intentionally vague. Make it an absolute promise and the Taiwanese are emboldened to challenge the Mainland. But if the vow appears weak, the China Strait is hardly a barrier to invasion. Keep our intentions vague and neither side will miscalculate, we hope.

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As technology people, its prudent to remember that China is still a country we could find ourselves facing across the barrel of a gun. Or that might use its growing economic muscle to limit the choices available to us. Thats not to say conflict is inevitable, but it isnt unthinkable, either.

We can hope that increasing economic engagement between China and the western democracies will be a good thing for all involved. That the lives of our nations will become so intertwined that serious conflict would be unthinkable. This would bring increased personal liberty to the Chinese people and create a prosperous county headed, however gradually, to a more democratic future. Without invading Taiwan.

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It wouldnt surprise me to see China move further in this direction, and do so more quickly than Russia. Thats not something Id have guessed when the Berlin Wall fell. But China also remains on the list of countries the United States is most likely to become crosswise with.

We should be careful that economic entanglements dont limit our options, and at the same time we need to promote greater freedom and openness for the Chinese people. The fate of the Taiwanese is obviously still a matter of concern.

As we plan our future—technological, economic and otherwise—we must plan with China in mind. But which China? The one thats a friend? The one thats a foe? Or the one thats a little of each?

I hope for the first, dread the second and suspect we will end up with the third.

Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. Before joining, David was executive editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk and has been a columnist for PC World, ComputerWorld and other publications. Former executive producer of DEMO and other industry events, he also operates a technology consulting and event management business. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site,

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