In spite of the facts that the U.S. and PRC have $160 billion in bilateral trade with a huge U.S. deficit, that PRC has become the U.S. banker and is by far the largest creditor in U.S. history, that U.S. disapproval of PRC human rights abuses is mostly overlooked, that U.S. and most world governments worry about weapon/WMD proliferation activities to destabilize relations between nations, and that PRC uses espionage and imported strategic goods to build its military, these only have impacts at the margin. An issue that is hard for most Americans to comprehend, according to China scholars like Carpenter, is PRC's determination to force Taiwan "to return to the motherland." Existence of Taiwan as an "unrecovered" territory is a continuing and galling issue, a symbol of China's long period of weakness and dependence that began early in the 19th century. The "shabby treatment at the hands of various colonial powers... was profoundly humiliating," the taking of Hong Kong by England, Macao by Portugal, Japan's seizure of Taiwan and Manchuria, Russia's annexation of northern provinces, and France and Germany starting colonies with impunity, but all these lands were restored to PRC, except Taiwan.
Within PRC, especially in upper ranks of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that is assertive and influential, the common policy theme is that America "is proclaimed to be a declining power with but two or three decades of primacy left." PRC military analysts (you should read some of their works including Unrestricted Warfare) identify weaknesses in the U.S. military and means to exploit them. PLA elitists believe that U.S. strategic weaknesses are a) undue reliance on technology, b) hypersensitive aversion to casualties, and c) inter-service military rivalries. At any time, PLA and party leaders think they can raise a "Taiwan independence" alarm to provoke and arouse the population to outbursts of anti-American sentiment, for which there is a deep reservoir. Note that PRC has consistently refused to renounce use of force for dispute resolution even when the quid pro quo was termination of arms sales by the U.S. to Taiwan.
Separatist sentiments are growing across the narrow straits between the nations that divided paths formally in 1949. The political party in power (DPP or Democratic Progressive Party) and President Chen state correctly that PRC has ruled from Beijing for only 4 of the last 111 years and PRC communism cannot override Taiwan nationalism. Today polls show that only 6% of Taiwanese favor reunification, down from the 46% of the population 15 years ago that believed themselves Chinese, betwixt and between. One of the key factors in this equation is the view (unknown to most Americans) by Taiwanese that the U.S. will come to their defense in case of a "confrontation" on this issue, as is required by U.S. policy stated in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that mandates U.S. support to Taiwan, but is silent on military intervention, thus the matter of "strategic ambiguity." The U.S. is in the bad position of losing both ways with this incoherent policy making some collision all too probable because the lobby for Taiwan in the U.S. is quite strong, with a minority but substantial reserve of anti-PRC voices in the Congress and throughout the nation. On the other hand, PRC can pull puppet strings on the other side.
.......Most military analysts agree that PRC can be defeated in war with terms applied today, but we know the world is not stagnant. That is certainly why PRC has chosen to avoid confrontation and why the Taipei government has reason to ignore its role in the brewing storm. While this balance exists is the last, right moment to change U.S. incoherence.
William Hawkins of U.S. Business and Industry Council says that "All China really wants from the United Stated is technology." It is certain that opening and relaxing strategic trade would have short-term advantages, but U.S. competitiveness and national security in the long term would be devastated. A consensus among those who study this topic think that a war might occur within eight to twelve years. But as written by Ralph Peters in the Weekly Standard in early February, "Technologies in warfare are not paramount, flesh and blood are still the supreme currency. And strength of will remains the ultimate weapon." PRC and Taiwan folks seem to have a commitment to do what is required to win, but I question our own here in America.