It is most unlikely to be a coincidence that Beijing struck on two fronts on the same day. First, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Friday afternoon said it would meet next month to interpret key provisions in the Basic Law on Hong Kong's democratic reform. Several hours later, the mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office issued its most stern statement yet on the fallout of the Taiwan presidential election, warning that it would not sit back and let the situation spin out of control. The timing offers significant clues to how Beijing looks at its two most vexing of issues. Over the past week, Beijing has kept a low profile over the drama playing out in Taiwan resulting from Chen Shui-bian's razor-thin victory. While Beijing always expected Mr Chen to win, it secretly hoped the opposition could turn the situation around by forcing an immediate recount. The statement on Taiwan, coming after Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's conversation with Colin Powell, his US counterpart, indicates Beijing has lost hope the opposition will pull through. With Mr Chen in power for the next four years, Beijing will not harbour any hope of improved political ties with Taiwan. However, mainland officials are not particularly worried cross-strait relations will deteriorate. This is largely because Beijing and Washington, Taiwan's biggest protector, have reached an understanding that the cross-strait status quo should be maintained. As part of its new thinking, Beijing is most likely to engage Washington in helping it rein in Mr Chen's independence drive. Washington, needing Beijing's help with its more important priorities, such as fighting global terrorism, is most likely to oblige. In contrast, Beijing intends to assert its power over Hong Kong more directly and forcibly. The chaotic aftermath of Taiwan's election has no doubt strengthened Beijing's resolve to slow political reform in Hong Kong. The move to bring forward the decision to interpret the Basic Law's key clauses follows Beijing's apparent dismay that several months of debate about patriotism have failed to rally the majority of Hong Kong people. Friday's sudden announcement will place Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his administration in an awkward position, prompting more concern that the city's autonomy is under attack. Expect more forcible statements in the days to come.