BEIJING (AP) _ China's rhetoric and threatening military maneuvers near Taiwan boil down to one basic demand to the island: Give up any thought of independence.

Leaders in Beijing insist that no matter how many votes Lee Teng-hui wins in Taiwan's first direct presidential election Saturday, he will not be a president _ just the head of a Chinese province.

Beijing wants Lee to stop trying to ``split the motherland'' before it will talk about smoothing relations.

Taiwan says it wants to talk, but as an equal _ and only if China renounces its threat to take the island by force. It also refuses to discuss reunifying China and Taiwan until China becomes democratic.

``We have with good will extended both hands to our compatriots on the Chinese mainland,'' Lee said this week, but added: ``We would like in the future to have China unified, in freedom (and) democracy.''

The problem is that while reunification seems a vague and distant notion to Taiwanese, it is an overriding issue for China.

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945. Like Hong Kong and Macau, it symbolized the helplessness of pre-Communist China against the depredations of big powers.

Hong Kong and Macau are returning to the motherland. China's leaders are unwilling to leave Taiwan out of the process.

In 1949, Taiwan became the refuge of the Nationalist government that lost China's civil war to Mao Tse-tung's Communists. But despite their mutual enmity, the two sides managed to coexist on the common ground that both believed they should be reunified.

Beijing accuses Lee of backing away from his side of the bargain and courting outright independence.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin in January 1995 offered to talk with Taiwanese authorities at an appropriate time and place ``on the premise that there is only one China.''

But that was before Lee enraged Beijing last year by making a private visit to the United States. China insists that countries it deals with diplomatically renounce official ties with Taiwan _ and with its president.

Jiang's proposals are still on the table, but Beijing is now clearly looking for proof that Taiwan's ``provincial leaders'' will stop going abroad as though they were representing a government.

China also wants Taiwan to stop seeking diplomatic relations with other countries, and give up attempts to win a seat at the United Nations.

When China calls Taiwanese separatism ``an insult to the Chinese people,'' that's not just rhetoric. Many ordinary Chinese agree. And China's leaders, in turn, play on this patriotic appeal to seal their own legitimacy.

``We can have negotiations after the election, but under what conditions? Not under the posture of two Chinas,'' said Cai Zimin, a native of Taiwan who left nearly 50 years ago and now represents the island in China's legislature.

Taiwanese officials scorn the notion of people like Cai representing Taiwan in a Communist-controlled legislature.

``Who elected those guys?'' asked Taiwanese Foreign Minister Fredrick Chien. ``They represent nobody.''

The war games, then, may have had their intended effect of making Taiwan's people more cautious about pushing for independence.

``While it may have increased their heartfelt desire to be independent,'' said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the University of Michigan, ``I think it has decreased their stomach for moving in that direction.''