WHEN you go from Beijing to Taipei, it is hard to believe there is only one China. On my first day in the Taiwanese capital to cover the presidential election, I walked into an elegant bookstore. Displayed on the front table were two less than flattering books about President Lee Teng-hui. These were The Fake Face and The True Face, both written by Li Ao, a political satirist and one of the five candidates in the election. These contain many startling details about Mr Lee's life, including evidence of his membership of the Communist Party in 1946 and 1947. By contrast, the front hall of the five-storey Xidan Book Centre on Chang An Avenue in Beijing is full of the writings and speeches of the leaders of communist China, and people walk past without a glance. Li's books are on sale there too, but censored and possibly pirated. Freedom of news and expression is the first, most obvious difference. People in Taipei followed the election on 24-hour cable news stations which covered the race in meticulous, possibly excessive detail, with live broadcasts of news conferences and tracking of the candidates' every step. In the evenings, there were lively, combative talk shows in which pundits and representatives of the parties debated fiercely. The result was an electorate well informed and eager to imitate what they had seen on television and giving their views forcefully and impassionedly. Unlike Taipei, Beijing is still in the Brezhnev era and the private media is banned. The only people with some understanding of the Taiwan election, held on March 18, are a small minority who surf the Internet where they can read a wide selection of news - although access to Hong Kong and Taiwan media is usually blocked. No-one dares in public to challenge the government view that the island is an inseparable part of China or to say the Taiwanese people should be allowed to decide their own future. 'The new president Chen Shui-bian has two years to unify or there will be a war,' said Wang Guoqiang, a former PLA soldier. 'If he cannot recover Taiwan, Jiang Zemin has nothing to show for all his years in office. The war would be over in a short time, since Taiwan is so small. Our government's position is crystal clear.' That is the level of public comment in Beijing. In Taiwan, the diversity of opinion is startling. At an election rally for Mr Chen in Kaohsiung, campaigners were collecting signatures for a declaration of independence - which Beijing says would lead to immediate war. 'The bandits have come too often from the mainland,' said Lin Tian-rung, one of the campaigners. 'We cannot allow a repeat of the 2-28 massacre', referring to the killing of up to 28,000 Taiwanese by Kuomintang troops and police in 1947 to suppress an anti-government rebellion. Mr Lin chose the word 'bandit' carefully. It was the phrase used by Chiang Kai-shek to describe the communist government. Mr Lin and other supporters of independence use it to mean both the Kuomintang and communists who come, uninvited, to their island and impose their rule. Until the late 1980s, the 2-28 massacre was taboo. Mention of it could lead to arrest and imprisonment. Now there is a museum to the massacre in a park in the centre of Taipei, a few hundred metres from the Presidential Palace, and the government is paying compensation to families of the victims. Mr Lee pardoned dissidents who had campaigned against the Kuomintang. But in Beijing there is no memorial to the victims of the Cultural Revolution, the anti-rightist campaign of the 1950s, or the great famine of 1959-61, in which at least 30 million people died. Thousands of dissidents remain in prison or exile, reviled by the government. These overdue accounts of history remain to be settled. So politics, society and history are driving the mainland and Taiwan apart, making it unimaginable to believe the red Chinese flag could fly over the Presidential Palace without a war. Is there an alternative? If it wants to recover Taiwan, Beijing would be better advised to use the free market, where everything is working in its favour. In economics, there is only one China. Taiwan is becoming increasingly dependent on the mainland market. Government figures show that, as of the end of last year, China accounted for 40 per cent of its overseas investment of US$36.1 billion (HK$280.8 billion), compared to 15 per cent for Southeast Asia and the United States' 12 per cent. Since 1992, Taiwan's surplus with the mainland has exceeded its deficit with the rest of the world. In other words, without this surplus, it would have had a trade deficit each year since then. With high land and labour costs and tough environmental laws at home, Taiwan firms have no option but to use China as their base of production and, increasingly, the market for their goods. With Mr Chen in power and joint entry this year into the World Trade Organisation, this inter-dependency will increase. Mr Chen has promised to relax restrictions on trade and investment imposed by Mr Lee. Taiwan's parliament last week lifted a five-decade ban on direct trade between the mainland and Taiwan-held islands. 'We business people and not the government should decide whether to invest in China,' said Harry Liu, who runs a small Taipei firm making shirts in Shanghai and Shenzhen for customers in the US and Europe. 'We know the risks better than the government. China is a difficult and dangerous place, which is why we can make a profit there, because we know how to operate and foreigners do not. I could not make money in France or Florida, where the markets are too mature and the laws too complete.' Mr Liu says he has three no's when travelling in China: no women, no talk of politics, and no flash watches or rings that would attract attention. 'Some of my friends have gone upstairs with a pretty lady - and the door bursts open and three men come in. One says he is the husband and the other two demand all my friends' money,' he said. An association of Taiwan businesses in the mainland that lobbies for free trade and investment said 300,000 Taiwan people work in China, employing 10 million mainland workers. Add their dependents and that makes about 1.5 million people or seven per cent of the island's population. As restrictions are lifted, so the numbers will go up. This will give Beijing more hostages in the event of a conflict - but also make more Chinese dependent on Taiwan firms for their livelihood and more companies reliant on Taiwan parts and components. Such mutual dependence should make it as impossible for Taipei to declare independence as it is for China to start a war. If falling in love and divorce are both impossible, a marriage of convenience is the best solution for the foreseeable future. As one Taiwan businessman put it: 'The conditions for unification or independence are not ripe yet.'