Beijing has never ruled out the use of force against Taiwan. When the United States normalized relations with China in 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which said that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China rested upon "the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means."
But what if China at some point decides to use force against Taiwan in order to bring about reunification? What would be the U.S. and international reaction?
A group of experts were assembled at Penn State University in 1991 to consider this and related issues. One of the most thoughtful contributions is by Mark S. Pratt, a retired U.S. foreign service officer who headed the Taiwan desk and was American consul general in Canton. He makes two important points. First, Taipei cannot be complacent about being able to call on the United States in case of an attack from the mainland. But Beijing cannot conclude that there will be no U.S. military response. The purpose of the strong statements in the TRA was to keep force a U.S. option that any Chinese government would have to consider.
Second, precisely because the TRA places the United States in the middle of any efforts to deal with Taiwan's future, it does not make sense to cut off regular high-level dialogue with Chinese leaders. The United States, says Pratt, needs to continue to indicate to Beijing that it is prepared for China to play an increasingly important role in the world, and it should adopt a strictly neutral position on the Taiwan question, apart from sticking with its interest in a peaceful settlement.