There is another thaw under way in the usually frosty political relations between Taiwan and China. That's good news for business travelers. Because after 50 years, there seems to be an opportunity to make real progress on reestablishing transportation links between the two countries.
When I go to China, it's always by way of Hong Kong. That's not because I favor the city; it's because there are no other direct transportation links between Taiwan and China. The circuitous route is an unfortunate leftover of the Chinese civil war, which ended in 1949, and left both sides too distrustful of each other to risk such openness.
But it is becoming tougher to keep the doors shut. As the two economies become more intertwined, it is impractical to route all commerce through Hong Kong.
Already thinking of re-election in two years, Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is eager to claim credit for opening the links again. Taiwan is China's largest foreign investor, and China is Taiwan's largest export market. Most of the electronic devices made in China are done so by Taiwan-managed companies.
With such interdependence, it's absurd that you can't hop on a plane to Shanghai and be there in about one hour. (Now, via Hong Kong, the trip takes at least half a day.) At the same time, the Taiwanese put themselves at a disadvantage by not being able to ship cargo directly to Shanghai, where the heart of China's electronics sector is forming. Now and again, Taiwan talks about being a regional hub for commerce. That's hard to do without being linked to the region's largest country.
What remains to be seen in the slow dance between the two is whether politics or economics will take precedence. China's leaders are hoping to score political capital before their big leadership summit this summer. To be sure, time is short and there is a long way to go. China's strategy is to interact with Taiwan under the "One China" principle-that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it.
The Taiwanese reject that. They want to be treated as equals, not as a wayward province that eventually will return.
Neither side has budged from these positions. So no meaningful talks have taken place. But if both sides back down a little, and it appears they might, the way will be open for serious business. That's good for both sides. If the links are opened, it will be a huge confidence and trust builder.
And I might just get to spend a few more weekends a year dining at my favorite restaurant in Shanghai. As good as that sounds, I won't hold my breath. The actors in this play can be quite fickle.