Taiwan to apply to join China-led infrastructure bank

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan said on Monday it would make a formal application to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), becoming the latest economy to express interest in the Beijing-backed institution.

It was not immediately clear if the island could actually join the AIIB, since China has long opposed allowing Taiwan to join any international organisations that appear to confer sovereignty upon it.

Taiwan will present a letter of intent to the AIIB preparatory committee, said a statement from the presidential office following a national security meeting chaired by President Ma Ying-jeou.

Membership of the AIIB would assist Taiwan's push for regional economic integration "and increase the odds of the country participating in international affairs and international economic and trade organisations", Ma's spokesman Charles Chen said in the statement.

Ma voiced a desire to join the bank in an interview with a local newspaper last week, saying: "We should not stay on the sidelines. (We) should actively participate in it." Britain, Germany, France and Italy have all said they intend to join the US$50 billion (S$69 billion) bank, despite scepticism about the AIIB in Washington and Tokyo.

South Korea on Thursday became the latest country with close ties to the US to say it would seek membership.

Last week China's vice finance minister Shi Yaobin said it "welcomes all countries" to join the bank, which it has touted as a tool for financing regional development alongside other lenders such as the US-led World Bank and the Japan-led Asian Development Bank.

Taiwan's involvement in international agreements is often curtailed by China, which considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification. They split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Taiwan has, however, joined international organisations in the past under different names. The International Olympic Committee refers to it as "Chinese Taipei", and it is known as the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu at the World Trade Organization.

Ties have improved rapidly between China and Taiwan since Ma and his Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party came to power in 2008.

The KMT, however, is tipped to lose power in next year's presidential poll in favour of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party.

The opposition party expressed reservations over the AIIB on Friday. Spokesman Cheng Yun-peng said the government "should evaluate why is it necessary and ensure that Taiwan will join with an identity that won't hurt our dignity or affect the overall national development".