The people of Taiwan have chosen President Lee Teng-hui to lead them for another term. There was no ambiguity in yesterday's result. The turnout was a creditable 76 per cent. With 53.4 per cent of the vote compared to 20.9 per cent for his nearest rival, Mr Lee can justifiably talk of a famous victory - and claim a popular mandate to continue his policies. This was not the outcome Beijing had hoped for. It was certainly not the outcome which China's intimidatory military exercises and missile tests off the coast of Taiwan were designed to achieve. But now, the people of Taiwan and the rest of the region must hope and pray that it is an outcome with which Beijing will be able to come to terms. The United States should be praying with us. The Taiwan crisis is a threat to stability in the region, precisely because the events of the past weeks have ensured that it is no longer, as Beijing insists, a purely internal Chinese affair. War (or civil war) across the Taiwan Strait would threaten vital international sea-lanes. Trade flows and the security of supplies for all East Asia would be seriously at risk. The interests of the United States and Japan would be threatened. The biggest crisis of this month of tension has not been in the relationship between China and Taiwan - important though that is - but in the relationship between Beijing and Washington and in the effect on broader security perceptions throughout the region. President Lee can bask in his democratic credentials. But, after his victory, he can also afford to feel that it is time to relax a little. He has put Taiwan back on the diplomatic map without forcing the independence issue to its limit. Now, he can use his status as the first fully democratically elected president in Chinese history to negotiate Taiwan's future relations from a position of quiet confidence, whether in exploring prospects of more direct economic ties with the mainland or in pursuing the possibility of talks with Chinese leaders. China could then accept those approaches gracefully, instead of continuing to vilify Mr Lee. For its part, the United States should give both sides time to step back from the brink of confrontation by withdrawing its warships to a distance, although they are unlikely to leave the area completely for as long as China's military exercises on the coast continue. For everyone's sake, it is time for a period of re-assessment of the post-election situation. After the escalation of the past week, all sides need to sit quietly for a while and consider their motives and strategies. What follows needs careful preparation, with a readiness to step back from the brink on all sides. No one should feel humiliated. Loss of face can all too easily become a casus belli. It would be comforting to interpret the cancellation of the Chinese Defence Minister's trip to the Pentagon to meet his US counterpart as a move designed to give both sides time to reflect - a recognition that silence may be the best policy for a while. There would, after all, have been little point in a meeting from which both sides stormed out in anger. If the climate is allowed to cool before the scheduled meeting of the US Secretary of State and the Chinese Foreign Minister, there may be room for more productive discussions between the two men. Unfortunately, that may be too hopeful a view. No date has even been set for the meeting between the foreign ministers, and Defence Minister Chi Haotian's desire to be honoured with a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon and a meeting at the White House were wishes which the Clinton administration was clearly unable to grant, particularly in an election year. So far, the Democrats and Republicans have maintained a broadly bipartisan policy on China and Taiwan, but President Clinton knows that any sign of perceived weakness will be jumped on by Bob Dole and the Republican right. The danger is that, on its side, China will find it too hard to back off without getting a substantial concession from Taiwan which would fly in the face of the verdict of the voters there - and that, as a result, the situation will head further along the path of conflict. The current tensions between China and the United States on a range of issues - from nuclear technology sales to trade issues - make a worsening of the situation over Taiwan both possible and particularly dangerous. Even to suggest the possibility of great power conflict sounds excessively alarmist in the post-Cold War world, but everybody involved should be aware of the danger of reaching a point of no return.