PRESIDENT Lee Teng-hui's new initiative on Taipei's relations with Beijing contains little that is new and offers scant evidence of initiative. Nonetheless, the Taiwan leader deserves credit for offering a measured response to Chinese President Jiang Zemin's eight-point plan for bilateral relations. It is also encouraging that the two sides appear to be competing for credibility in outlining their plans: not so long ago, each side was content merely to insult the other. That said, Mr Lee's proposals were rather disappointing. He knows well that it would be unwise, in practical terms, and virtually impossible, in political terms, for any Chinese leader to renounce the use of force against Taiwan. Such a major concession by Beijing would tilt the balance of advantage in Taipei's favour in subsequent negotiations. Mr Lee's proposal that China should involve Taiwan in discussing the future of Hong Kong is similarly half-baked. Such involvement would dilute China's power in Hong Kong and might do more to undermine the territory's stability and prosperity than to uphold it. Beijing would only be likely to consider such involvement as part of an agreed timetable for reuniting Taiwan with the mainland. In itself, the proposal is a non-starter. The suggestion that Beijing should support Taipei to rejoin the international community is, similarly, a non-starter. Mr Lee's proposals represent Taipei's wish-list, and no one seriously believes that Beijing would accept any of them as a precondition for negotiations. If progress is to be made, concessions will have to be granted by both sides. Nonetheless, it is encouraging that the leaders of China and Taiwan are engaged in a form of public debate, albeit a phony one. Now that both leaders have put a few of their cards on the table, officials on both sides could be in a position to make the best of the hands they have been dealt.