After 12 years of trying, Taiwan has been invited to observe the World Health Organisation's annual assembly after the People's Republic of China finally dropped its objections to the break-away island's participation. This is probably a purely political move - another sign of strengthening cross-straights relations now that Beijing finds in Taipei a government it can do business with, led by the nationalist Kuomintang rather than the pro-independance Democrats. These growing bonds are usually welcomed by onlookers, in that they make devastating war in East Asia that much less likely, although of course they also make it progressively harder for the island ever to escape the mainland's shadow. But political gestures are fragile, and exposed to Beijing's whim as governments come and go in Taipei. It would be much more welcome if the PRC's move showed a new element of cross-straits practicality as well as politics.
Coming as it did mere hours after the WHO raised its pandemic alert level regarding swine influenza to phase 5 out of 6, there is just a chance that the PRC recognises that having an island with such strong links to its own population beyond the bounds of global health infrastructure, with the world now facing such a grave threat, is simply madness. Of course, the PRC's official statements make little mention of its own health concerns - the move is instead couched in terms of 'goodwill' towards the people of Taiwan. But if the PRC is dropping its long term obstructionism in favour of pragmatic and mutually beneficial progress, this would be far more positive than if this is simply a political gesture. It would give hope that the PRC is open to future compromise, and that such compromise is predicated on practical benefits as much as rewarding a friendly government in Taiwan.