THERE WILL BE peace in the Taiwan Strait - at least until early next year. Even if, as is likely, Taiwan president-elect Chen Shui-bian does not declare his support for the one-China principle in his inauguration speech on May 20, it is improbable the PLA will respond by launching an early attack. This is despite the increasingly high-decibel threats by civilian and military leaders in Beijing that failure by Mr Chen to espouse the one-China precept will result in imminent hostilities. As part of a well-orchestrated psychological warfare, mainland authorities have leaked information to the Hong Kong press that preparations for a 'full-scale Taiwan assault' have been completed. In the past week, various local media - including those which have previously adopted a more neutral stance - have run one sensationalist story after another. For example, it was reported that all seven military regions had been put on 'war alert', and that troops in the Nanjing and Guangzhou regions had practised invasion tactics such as amphibious landings. But the truth is, that while training has been intensified, and war games close to Taiwan may be launched, Beijing is nowhere near ordering a 'military liberation' of the island. Many of the recent reports amount to little more than propaganda since, even if military action is taken, only a relatively small part of the PLA - the missile corps - would be used. 'The consensus among the military and civilian leadership is still to follow the so-called Kosovo model, that is, using missiles to strike at selected Taiwan targets,' said a source familiar with Beijing's Taiwan policy-making. 'No amphibious landing and occupation of Taiwan has been contemplated.' The administration of President Jiang Zemin, who basically does not want war, has pretty much decided to put off making a decision until early next year. 'The leadership certainly won't attack Taiwan until after China's accession to the World Trade Organisation,' the source added. 'It most likely will not take action until after the United States presidential election - and after the new White House occupant has made known his China policy.' The WTO factor is important for two reasons. Most senior cadres do not want developments on the Taiwan front to jeopardise accession. And the leadership is unanimous that, in the event of war, WTO membership would help Beijing weather the economic sanctions that would be imposed on China by the United States and its allies. Equally significant is that most Politburo members favour playing the 'timetable card' with war as a last resort. This means, should Beijing lose all hope of persuading Mr Chen to honour the one-China doctrine, the leadership will publicise a deadline whereby Taipei must agree to go to the negotiation table under the one-China formulation. An informed source said under this scenario, the Jiang leadership would tell Mr Chen - and the world - an attack would be launched six months later, unless Taipei sued for peace. The source said Beijing was confident, once this ultimatum was delivered, the collapse in the stock market and capital flight, in addition to the 'revolt of the masses', would force Mr Chen to make the requisite one-China declaration. Yet if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration managed to hold the island together while continuing to defy Beijing, war would become inevitable. But the situation remains fluid and developments in Beijing could lead to other scenarios. One optimistic scenario is that Beijing may accept something less than a full avowal of the one-China doctrine. For example, the Jiang administration may be pacified if Mr Chen and his DPP colleagues were at least willing to say 'I am Chinese in addition to being Taiwanese'. A PLA source said Mr Jiang recently hinted he would avoid military tactics if Mr Chen and company would still call themselves Chinese. When pressed by hawkish generals as to why he had been so tame towards Taiwan - compared with Beijing's past willingness to go to war in Korea, as well as against India and Vietnam - Mr Jiang reportedly said: 'It's different when we are talking about Chinese fighting Chinese.' The source added the corollary of the President's view was that if DPP politicians insisted on upholding a separate Taiwanese identity, Beijing would not hesitate to deploy missiles against them in order to 'save' Chinese compatriots on the island. Beijing's flexibility was also shown in the statements by senior Taiwan affairs official Tang Shubei in a seminar in Shenzhen recently. Reflecting Mr Jiang's instructions, Mr Tang said cross-Strait negotiations would be conducted between equals, not between a central and a provincial Government. In private, mainland officials have reiterated that the 'one China' which would be formed after Taiwan's integration need not be the People's Republic of China. A more pessimistic scenario holds that Beijing will not wind down the war machine unless Mr Chen fully accedes to its terms, namely, that he will abide by the one-China principle and begin reunification talks with Beijing soon. The past year has seen the relentless rise of the power of the hawks. Their influence is such that on many occasions Mr Jiang, usually deemed a moderate, has echoed their extremist stance. One example was the President's view that Beijing should penalise Taiwan businessmen who support the DPP. 'We cannot tolerate Taiwan businessmen who make a lot of money in the mainland - and who continue to back the DPP,' he said. After Mr Jiang's statement, PLA hawks have urged that in addition to military installations on Taiwan, missiles should be targeted at the factories and other facilities of tycoons who are Chen supporters. In the past fortnight, the hardliners have repeated their argument that if the military option is to be taken, it should be sooner rather than later, and before Taipei secures a new generation of weapons from the US. Other strategists have contended that 'resolute' action against Taiwan will not only thwart separatists on the island, but deal a body blow to the anti-China containment policy allegedly perpetrated by Washington. But, at least for now, Mr Jiang's position that no action be taken before 2001 is still the majority view. And moderates and pacifists in Beijing and Taipei - as well as every country that has a stake in peace in Asia-Pacific - have at least several months to rein in the hawks.