This symbolism and the progress behind it are often given as a reason China would not invade Taiwan in the near future--and certainly not before the Olympics.
First, I've never predicted such an invasion though that is how my post is often described. I've said that if I was in charge, that's what I'd do.
But where does this logic go if China's economy really isn't progressing as they say they are, and as most observers believe?
The Western press is full of stories these days on China’s arrival as a superpower, some even heralding, or warning, that the future may belong to her. Western political and business delegations stream into Beijing, confident of China’s economy, which continues to grow rapidly. Investment pours in. Crowning China’s new status, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage. True, 200 million of her subjects, fortunate to be working for an expanding global market, increasingly enjoy a middle-class standard of living. The remaining 1 billion, however, remain among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services. Popular discontent simmers, especially in the countryside, where it often flares into violent confrontation with Communist Party authorities. China’s economic “miracle” is rotting from within.
Without the economic growth they need to keep a restless population in line, old-fashioned nationalism fueled by conquest might be the only way for the Communist Party to maintain control of their continent-sized, fissured country. The entire rationale for believing that Peking wouldn't risk their economy by invading Taiwan disappears if the original assumption isn't true.
The Chinese want Taiwan. Peking firmly believes Taiwan is part of China. The Taiwanese shouldn't take too much comfort in being able to beat a Chinese invasion in 2012. That might be four years too late.
On the other hand, even if the 2008 Olympics are a Chinese coming-out party, isn't that what the Berlin Olympics were in 1936? I wouldn't think even the original assumption is terribly comforting, really.
UPDATE: And if you really are unconvinced that China has an obsession with capturing Taiwan, check out China's reaction to Saint Lucia's decision to restore diplomatic relations with Taiwan:
The resumption of ties with Taiwan was an "open violation" of a 1997 agreement that established diplomatic relations between St. Lucia and Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency.
This "is brutal interference in China's internal affairs," Liu said. "We express indignation and opposition."
China thinks that a tiny island nation of about 160,000 people is brutally interfering with China's internal affairs! How neurotic is that?
The Chinese want Taiwan. The Chinese are preparing their military to take Taiwan. The only question is when Peking pulls the trigger.
Of course, Taiwan has a say in whether they can resist such an invasion. I will say that precision weapons in sufficient numbers used by well trained military personnel would make a cross-strait invasion daunting for the Chinese. There really is no precedent for assessing the chances of a large invasion when the defenders can use precision missiles and bombs. We want V-22s that can make high speed dashes from over the horizon to avoid shore defenses.
How the Chinese could overcome such defenders is not clear to me. Special forces? Sheer mass and a willingness to endure casualties? Fomenting a coup? Poison gas? Surprise? I have no doubt the PLA is weighing their options carefully.