China and Taiwan made economic history Tuesday with a bold agreement that allows planes and ships to travel directly across the Taiwan Strait – the place where many have feared they would fight their next battle.
Still, the Asian rivals appear far from resolving the root causes of nearly six decades of hostilities and distrust. The pact was possible because negotiators set aside thorny political disputes and focused only on trade and economics.
The deal allows passenger flights directly across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from mainland China. In the past, planes had to fly into Hong Kong airspace while traveling between the two sides. Cargo ships, which used to have to stop at the Japanese island of Okinawa northeast of Taiwan, will be allowed to sail directly to the other side and cut hundreds of miles out of each trip.
In the eyes of China's leaders, Taiwan is a Chinese province that must eventually unite with the mainland or be invaded.
A conflict could quickly draw in the U.S., which has long warned China's government it may defend Taiwan – a major buyer of American weapons. Even as they talk to China, the Taiwanese have been loading up on more U.S. arms, including Apache helicopters and Patriot missiles.