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Taiwan Can't Be Fooled

The increasingly rich and well-schooled Taiwanese aren't like the mainland's 700 million, little-educated peasants whom the communist leaders usually manipulate. Yet last week Beijing treated the people of Taiwan like dupes by meddling in their politics in a foolhardy way.

China rolled out the red carpet, literally, for a visit by Taiwan's opposition leader, Lien Chan. He, like China, opposes formal independence for the island nation and favors eventual reunification. In treating him as a head of state, and even signing an agreement of common objectives with him, China hopes to isolate Taiwan's current president, Chen Shui-bian, who talks of officially accepting the reality of an independent Taiwan.

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China's autocrats can't seem to accept that Taiwan is a democracy in which the people have voted for Mr. Chen twice, and against Mr. Lien. They also must think they can act kindly toward Taiwanese politicians they favor while aiming hundreds of missiles at the island and recently passing a law that threatens war if Taiwan moves toward formal statehood.

These crude good-cop bad-cop antics by China only further Taiwan's steady drift away from the mainland in everything but business ties.

Lien's visit, however, did carry some historic symbolism. He's head of the KMT party, or Nationalists, who lost China to the communists in 1949 and fled to Taiwan. He's the first KMT leader to return to the mainland since the civil war ended with Mao Tse-tung's victory. His party still controls Taiwan's legislature.

But Beijing wins no point by pretending to put the civil war memories aside and welcoming Lien as an equal. He's not Taiwan's duly elected leader. Unlike in China, Taiwan's leaders reflect the will of voters, who prefer that their leaders keep their independence of Beijing's manipulative ways. China will need to talk to Taiwan's president, no conditions attached, if it wants to be taken seriously by Taiwanese.