Taiwan, China face off: Has Asian Development Bank room for both?
Tigerlike Taiwan and elephantine China have squared off again in a war of wills, this time in their own backyard and before all their neighbors. The forum is the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB), a mini-World Bank for a region that holds half of humanity. The People's Republic of China, which has not been a member of the bank, informally applied this year - on the condition that Taiwan be expelled.Skip to next paragraph
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If China succeeds, the diplomatic isolation of Taiwan will take a great leap forward, Western diplomats say. Eventually, a few more such blows could weaken Taiwan's ability ever to negotiate - or fight - an attempt by the mainland to reunify with its breakaway province, they add.
The United States, having slowly eroded its relationship with Taiwan since 1972, faces a straw-on-the-camel's-back test, since it commands the loudest voice in the ADB.
Up to now, China has succeeded in ousting Taiwan from most other international bodies, including the World Bank. With Ronald Reagan in the White House, however, and China not about to let this issue cause it to lose face (as it did in the asylum case of tennis star Hu Na), the situation is as shaky as a rickety rickshaw with a 300-pound passenger.
''It's now at the gong-banging stage,'' says a Western diplomat in Taipei. ''Any compromise must come much later.''
In all its 17 years, the ADB has been too small ever to make a loan to the region's two giants, China and India; it left them to the World Bank. But flush with fresh funds from Western donors this year ($15.8 billion in capital until 1987), the bank has both poverty-stricken nations - with 1.7 billion people between them - knocking loudly on its door.
At last month's ADB meeting, the US said it would support China's entry into the bank - but not the expulsion of Taiwan. Three years ago, the US Congress voted to have the US seriously reconsider its ADB membership if Taiwan was cast out. A resolution making its way through Capitol Hill calls for definite US withdrawal in such a case.
China could be putting itself in a bind. If the ADB accepts China without expelling Taiwan, Peking would be forced to withdraw its application.
The issue is not as simple as in the case of Taiwan's membership in the United Nations or World Bank. There, it had joined in the pretense that it represented the mainland. But in joining the ADB in 1966, it qualified for loans based on Taiwan's population and resources. And in some preliminary documents, the word ''Taiwan'' was used when referring to the Republic of China, according to ADB officials.
But the ADB charter requires members to belong to the UN's special Asian office in Bangkok. Taiwan has lost that membership, providing a possible loophole for its ouster from the ADB. The ADB charter carries no official provision for expelling a member unless it defaults on a loan. Taiwan has repaid its loans dutifully.
''You can interpret its membership either way; it is really a political, not an institutional, decision,'' says a top bank official. ''No one wants to face China down,'' he says. ''They want to lay the slate clean by getting Taiwan out. But the bank wants to avoid a vote - most issues have not needed a vote here. They were settled with Asian-style consensus. The forces have to clarify. The issue is not totally ripe yet.''