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New leadership in China could further peace in Taiwan Strait: experts.

TAIPEI, Oct. 22 Kyodo

China's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee lineup, announced by Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday, heralds a new generation of leaders in Beijing for whom outright saber rattling in the Taiwan Strait is increasingly untenable, political observers in Taiwan said.

Hu on Monday announced four new members in Beijing's highest nine-member policy-making committee, including two political heavyweights tipped as potential successors to Hu as Communist Party chief, one day after the weeklong 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded in Beijing.

Belonging to Beijing's ''fifth generation'' of leaders, former Shanghai communist party chief Xi Jinping, 54, and former Liaoning Province communist party chief Li Keqiang, 52, are the youngest of the four new committee members. The remaining seven committee members are in their 60s.

Xi and Li are tipped to eventually lead China as either premier or general secretary of the communist party, the nation's highest post, after Hu -- who serves concurrently as president and party general secretary -- and current Premier Wen Jiabao step down, probably in 2012.

For analysts in Taiwan, the emergence of fifth-generation leaders in China's top decision-making body is a positive development for peace in the Taiwan Strait. With a younger, more savvy breed of leaders rising in Beijing, the threat of war between China and Taiwan is growing fainter, they said.

''We're seeing more educated, modern, moderate, less ideological leaders with healthy foreign exposure come of age,'' said George Tsai, an international relations expert at Taiwan's Chinese Culture University, referring to the new lineup of China's Politburo Standing Committee. ''Eventually, these newer generations of leaders will come to rely almost exclusively on scientific decision-making and expert opinion, rather than on ideology, to formulate policies,'' he said.

Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, when the Chinese nationalists fled to the island after losing a civil war against the communists in China.

The nationalists and communists established separate governments in Taipei and Beijing, respectively, but China claims Taiwan as its own and has threatened to attack the democratic island of 23 million if it moves too far toward formal statehood.

However, as the ''young turks'' squeeze out the dogmatic gerontocracy in Beijing, China is increasingly resorting to ''soft power'' tactics instead of saber rattling in its mission to unify Taiwan with the mainland, said Steve Chen, Conflict Studies and Research Center Director at Taiwan's Chang Jung Christian University.

''There's a clear change afoot in Beijing's rhetoric regarding Taiwan,'' Chen said.

''Beijing's leadership today isn't as disposed to using violence to deal with Taipei as in the past,'' he added, referring to the missile crisis in 1996.

Enraged by then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's public assertions of Taiwan's sovereignty, China launched a volley of missiles near the island as a warning to Taipei to scrap its ''splittist'' agenda. However, Beijing's saber rattling backfired, angering Taiwanese voters who later that year elected Lee to continue as president -- a post from which he further advocated the island's sovereignty.

To be sure, Beijing has not given up on its aim of annexing Taiwan, while its shift from violent coercion to soft power tactics in dealing with Taipei could pose more of a risk to the cause of Taiwanese sovereignty, said Huang Kwei-bo, a diplomacy expert at Taiwan's National Chengchi University.

''I'm generally optimistic about cross-strait relations, but, at some level, this is also bad news,'' Huang said of the rise of Beijing's ''fifth generation.''

''By bringing in such talented, younger generations, Beijing is becoming a more formidable foe for Taiwan,'' he said. ''It understands how to wield soft power, but hasn't given up on the military option.''

China has targeted roughly 1,000 ballistic missiles at Taiwan and is poised to invade the island, but increasingly prefers to take a low-key approach to the island.

During the party congress, Hu offered to negotiate a peace accord with Taiwan under the principle of ''one China,'' a proposal that won praise from Washington but which Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties dismissed.

China must first remove its missiles targeted at Taiwan and retract its condition requiring Taipei to state that Taiwan and China belong to ''one China'' before Taiwan can enter into talks with China, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian said.

By offering to negotiate a peace accord with Taiwan while attaching preconditions to negotiations that force Taiwan to reject them, Beijing is making Taipei ''look like a troublemaker'' and turning world opinion against the island, while saber rattling becomes a thing of the past, Hwang said.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Oct 27, 2007
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