HONG KONG -- In the days following Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's provocative declaration Aug. 3 that Taiwan and China are separate countries, there has been much speculation regarding his motives, with some analysts suggesting it was an unintentional slip of the tongue. Others said his words were spoken in the heat of an enthusiastic address to constituents who strongly support Taiwan independence.

It is much more likely, though, that Chen -- and his predecessor, Lee Teng-hui -- have carefully planned their recent utterances, making it clear that they intend that Taiwan remain permanently separate from China. And, while doing so, the Chen administration adopted what might be called a carrot-and-stick strategy by making conciliatory gestures to the mainland by offering to improve economic relations.

The record shows that the past few weeks -- aside from being marked by a series of provocative utterances by Chen and Lee -- have also been characterized by moves that can be interpreted as overtures to the mainland, such as new regulations that ease restrictions on doing business. The Chen administration, it appears, has no intention to disrupt the important economic relationship with the mainland, now Taiwan's top export market.