TAIWAN has enjoyed de facto independence since Chiang Kai-shek left the mainland in 1948 and established his Nationalist government there.
Today, it enjoys prosperity and a growing measure of democracy. The notion that it would surrender its independence to China is about as likely as Lebanon (invented by France during its League of Nations mandate in the 1920s) asking to be reincorporated into Syria.
Or Kuwait, hived off from Mesopotamia by Britain in the same period, asking for readmission to what is now called Iraq.
On the other hand, successive Chinese governments have gone out on a limb about "one China," according it a sanctified indivisibility. Western leaders lose face regularly and live to fight another day; but Chinese leaders have a more Victorian attitude to this misfortune.
They can refer to the fact that President Nixon, pointed in this direction by Henry Kissinger and Pakistan's Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, affirmed the one-China doctrine in 1972 as the price of diplomatic relations.
They can note that the members of Congress who cling to sanctions against Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Sudan, Syria and Cuba tend to wilt at the thought of punishing China's human-rights transgressions.
The one-China myth may be fiction, but it is an article of faith of the world's largest market for airliners, oil-drilling equipment, fried chicken and the materiel of the worlds largest armed forces.
However, there is a solution to the China-Taiwan imbroglio: the Commonwealth solution.
With Ambassador Jim Sasser now back in Beijing and Richard Holbrooke finally installed at the U.N., this is a face-saving solution which the United States could gently push, with the added advantage that it would exchange saber-rattling for economic growth.
To begin with, China could impress the world and make Hong Kong residents happier and more prosperous by being as modern as was Britain in 1911.
It could give independence to Hong Kong on the understanding that it join a Chinese Commonwealth, headed by the Chinese head of state, in the same way that London gave independence to Ottawa, which accepted that George V and his successors would be sovereigns of Canada.
China could then propose the same arrangement to Taiwan, which would be China's Australia.
The notion of a Chinese super-club might even attract Singapore, assuming that Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Tony Blair would not object to Singapore mainland partition.
X. Drew Liu of the China Strategic Institute in Washington says that is Beijing's nightmare. (He talks of seven "entities," including Taiwan.)
Every two years, 50 former British territories, plus two new members, (formerly Portuguese) Mozambique and (formerly mostly French) Cameroon, meet to discuss economic development and to congratulate themselves on being the second largest international organization to the U.N.
Two more non-British "special members", Nauru and Tuvalu in the Pacific, take part in the Commonwealth activities.
An incipient, four-nation Chinese Commonwealth would be considerably more exclusive in membership, but about two-thirds as big in population (approximately 1.3 billion people, compared to 1.8 billion).
Russell Warren Howe is a former foreign correspondent for The Sun.