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Even though most diplomats have always had trouble accepting a reality of two Chinas, China and Taiwan have had no formal diplomatic ties since the Nationalist Chinese fled the mainland in 1949. China has fought recognition of Taiwan ever since, while Taiwan has fought reunification.

That has not changed.But, miraculously, in 1994, Beijing and Taipei have completed eight days of delicate negotiations resulting in a breakthrough agreement to peaceably resolve a number of bilateral issues, such as airline hijackings, illegal immigrants and fishing disputes.

The attempt at political dialogue began in Singapore last year when it became evident that both countries could see the mutual economic advantages of increasing trade and investment ties. Actually, relations had steadily improved since the 1980s until a dozen hijackings of Chinese airlines to Taiwan generated a chill.

Beijing, ever image-conscious, was determined to encourage more investment, trade and tourism - and restore airline security. So Chinese leaders made limited concessions to Taipei.

Besides, anyone with reasonable brainpower realizes today that Taiwan is a spectacularly successful middle-size nation. It makes no sense for any nation craving its exports, markets and investment capital to just pretend Taiwan does not exist.

So Beijing will bow to Taiwan's authority over Chinese hijackers and accept its right to determine who is to be repatriated and who remains in Taiwan for political or religious reasons. Not only that, but government vessels from both sides will be allowed to mediate disputes between boats.

Even if most of the world still thinks there is only one China, it is to the advantage of the entire world that Beijing and Taipei improve relations.

Clearly, this is the beginning of pragmatism, and it is a welcome step. It may lead to neither recognition nor reunification, but stranger things have happened.