For Taiwanese aid, a search for its place and purpose

By Anna Patricia Valerio 01 June 2015

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou with then Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive at a disaster relief materials donation ceremony held in the Dominican Republic. Taiwanese nongovernmental organizations are helping raise the nation's humanitarian profile abroad. The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, for example, is among the groups that were active in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. Photo by: ROCMOFA / CC BY-NC-ND

When Taiwan applied to become a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it was not only rebuffed by mainland China, but also criticized at home. The mainland’s response — that Taiwan could still apply to be an ordinary member, but only under what Beijing deems the “appropriate” name — left Taiwan with a diplomatic dilemma: While it doesn’t want to be left out of AIIB for fear of being isolated from the international community, it also wants to protect its sovereignty.

The issue of which name to use for official membership at multilateral banks is nothing new for Taiwan. Taipei is the largest economy that is not a member of the World Bank, which has been referring to Taiwan as a province of China since Beijing joined the Washington-led financial institution in April 1980.

At the Japan-led Asian Development Bank, Taiwan represented both Taipei and Beijing until mainland China became an official member in 1986, when it was forced to change its name from “Republic of China” to “Taipei, China” — a name that it continues to protest. As a member of the World Trade Organization, Taiwan uses the China-approved but unwieldy “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.” Meanwhile, to participate in international activities like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Olympics, Taiwan uses the name “Chinese Taipei” — a label that China rejects.

Excluding the name controversies, however, “Taiwan is a solid AIIB candidate. It has one of the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves — $414 billion at last count, more than neighbor and accepted [AIIB] founding member South Korea,” reporter Nikhil Sonnad wrote in an analysis.

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About the author

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Anna Patricia Valerio

Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.

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