When commenting on the potential for conflict in the Taiwan Strait and the likelihood of China annexing Taiwan by force, one of the most frequently invoked mantras in the West is this: "Chinese consider it their sacred duty to `reunite' Taiwan with the motherland."
It is then further inferred that the Chinese would stop at nothing to achieve their goal of unification, and that its commitment to this goal is akin to religious devotion.
In order to lend credence to this line of reasoning, one only has to cite the time when a People's Liberation Army general nonchalantly said that Beijing would be willing to sacrifice the most prosperous half of China, or everything east of Xian, as the price for nuclear attacks on major US cities -- which he thought was the proper response to US intervention in a cross-strait war.
What might have been overlooked is that the word "sacred" is often attached in Chinese politics to an objective which despotic rulers deem to be an impossible dream.
For instance, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regimes of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) told the Taiwanese people for years that reclaiming China was "our sacred mission."
Beijing has also dusted off its litany of complaints regarding historical grievances and humiliations from time to time to camouflage its true designs on Taiwan, which are part of Beijing's plan for global strategic expansion. To give this earthly desire any kind of religious underpinning is preposterous since the Chinese Communists are generally atheist.
Therefore, any Chinese military attack on Taiwan would be a result of rational calculation. That is why US defense officials constantly remind the Chinese not to miscalculate.
As long as the US-Japan-Taiwan coalition maintains transparently adequate military capability in the region to make miscalculation improbable, Beijing will launch an attack only when compelled to forego rational calculation.
Restraint imposed on Taiwan by the US effectively removes the chance that President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration will cross the line. It then follows that there is almost zero chance that Beijing will be left without an alternative except to attack while Chen is Taiwan's leader.
This could all change should KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) become Taiwan's president in 2008.
Events could then unfold along either of the following two different courses, either of which could have disastrous consequences for the Taiwanese people.
First, Ma could acquiesce to all of Beijing's demands, including establishing direct links, unilaterally disarming and criminalizing Taiwan's independence movement. That would touch off an internal uprising with unpredictable ramifications.
Alternatively, Ma could defy Beijing's expectations, either by refusing Beijing's reunification timetable -- a move which would likely be backed by the majority of his pan-blue supporters -- or claiming an inability to outlaw Taiwan's independence movement lest uncontrollable internal strife erupt. Hawks in Beijing would then decide that Ma was not sincere about unification, even though Ma once openly advocated unification as the ultimate goal for the KMT, and that "all hope for peaceful reunification has been exhausted." Beijing's leadership would then be left with no choice but to resort to "nonpeaceful means" in accordance with its "Anti-Secession" Law.