Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's decision to hold a national referendum on revising the constitution in 2006 has further strained relations between the island and mainland China. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and says any moves toward independence will be countered by force. Analysts say the relationship between Beijing and Tapei will continue to be strained.
In recent years, China's military has pursued a course of modernization, upgrading weapons systems and military command communications. Daniel Blumenthal, a former U.S. Defense Department official, says the People's Liberation Army has Taiwan uppermost on its mind.
"And this means that we will continue to see an ambitious and accelerated buildup focused on the short-term goal of coercing Taiwan to come to Beijing's terms," he said.
According to Mr. Blumenthal, China is investing heavily in defense systems that will subdue Taiwan and deter the United States from entering into the conflict. Mr. Blumenthal joined other defense analysts Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington for a round-table discussion on the future of China's military.
Harvey Feldman, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization in Washington, argues that, although China wants reunification with Taiwan and will soon have the military capability to do so by force, an invasion of the island is not in Beijing's long-term interests.
"They want reunification," said Mr. Feldman. "They want reunification with a vibrant Taiwan that adds something beyond a name to the motherland. Reunification with a smoking hulk, I don't think, gets them very much."
But other analysts believe that China may conclude the only way to bring Taipei back under Beijing's control is through force. Scot Tanner, a political scientist with RAND Corporation, says China tried to exert economic pressure on Taiwan's business community during last year's presidential election. In spite of that, pro-independence candidate Chen Shui-bian won.
"That can't help but raise in the back of your mind the question that if they don't think the economic levers of influence are going to work what methods of influence might be left?" asked Mr. Tanner.
According to the analysts, China is also laboring under a misperception that the United States doesn't value its commitment to Taiwan as much as China values reunification. The Heritage Foundation's Harvey Feldman says the Bush administration must convince Beijing that this perception is false.
"Could the United States really stand by and watch democracy in Taiwan go down the tubes? What would happen to our position vis-à-vis Japan,Philippines, and other places in Southeast Asia? How would we be seen? The fact of the matter is, push come to shove, we will have to stand up for Taiwan and we ought to make that clear and we are making it clear," said Mr. Feldman.
However, analysts say the United States must also emphasize to Taipei and President Chen that any attempt to draft a new constitution that would declare independence is unhelpful. Given the mutual mistrust and suspicion on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, they urge all parties involved to use caution.