Dozens of young protesters clashed with police and security guards outside the Presidential Office in Taipei on the evening of March 31 after the government unilaterally announced that Taiwan would join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an international financial institution initiated by China.
After Taipei expressed its interest in joining the AIIB, Beijing said it would welcome Taiwan as long as it joined under the “one China” principle. Beijing’s terms also stipulated that Taiwan must apply through the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), the agency under the State Council that handles relations with Taiwan. Beijing does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty and regards Taiwan as a province, to be “re-united” by force if necessary. At this writing, the name under which Taiwan applied to join the AIIB remains unknown.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the government agency in charge of relations with China, faxed the Letter of Intent to the TAO at 7 pm on March 31. The TAO will then transmit Taiwan’s application to the Interim Secretariat of the AIIB.
Critics say that by agreeing to apply with the TAO rather than via the normal channels used to join international organizations, Taipei appeared to be conceding that Taiwan is part of China. The “One China” framework, a precondition for cross-strait exchanges that Chinese President Xi Jinping has vehemently reaffirmed in recent months, enjoys little support among the Taiwanese population, which cherishes its de facto status as an independent country.
President Ma Ying-jeou made the decision to join the AIIB during a meeting with the National Security Council and senior government officials on March 30. His administration issued a statement later that evening announcing that Taiwan was joining the AIIB. The decision — reached after a mere five days — was made behind closed doors. No consultations were held with the legislature, opposition parties, or society, sparking accusations that the Ma administration had once again struck a “black box” agreement with China.
On March 18, 2014, hundreds of activists stormed the Legislative Yuan in Taipei and occupied its main chambers for 24 days after the administration sought to expedite the “black box” Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) with China over fears that the agreement would undermine Taiwan’s economy and security.
On Tuesday night, about 30 members of the Black Island Youth Front (黑色島國青年陣線) — one of the many organizations that took part in the Sunflower Movement occupation of the legislature in 2014 — held a protest outside the Presidential Office in Taipei. The protesters were quickly surrounded by several dozens of security staff from the Presidential Office. Some were taken away by police amid minor clashes. At around 11 pm, police began shoving the protesters into buses. If the lead-up to last year’s Sunflower movement is any indication, the spontaneous protest that occurred on the evening of March 31 will be the first of many and could quickly snowball.
Commenting on the government’s sudden announcement, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said, “Taiwan is a democratic society, but our president unilaterally made the decision, and it is a ‘black box’ decision. It blatantly disregards the will of the people and the application was through the TAO. The people of Taiwan will never accept that.”
“We will participate in regional organizations,” the DPP continued, “but we will not neglect democratic procedure, and such behavior cannot damage our hurt our sovereignty and national interest.”
“Joining an international organization is a serious matter, and the Beijing-led AIIB insists on the ‘one China’ principle … our government never carried through the necessary evaluations, and government officials were never questioned. The decision was made by the president and was never reported to the parliament or communicated with society. The administration ambushed all of us,” a DPP spokesperson said.
Responding to the critics, Premier Mao Chi-kuo said that Taiwan had joined under the precondition that “we be respected.” He did not elaborate.
During a brief late-night press conference on March 31, MAC Minister Andrew Hsia was very economical in his comments, saying that joining the AIIB would be “good for Taiwan’s economy.”
The AIIB is regarded as a challenge to existing global financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank and to U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific. As many as 40 countries have expressed their interest in joining the fledging organization. Some analysts have characterized the Beijing-backed AIIB as “a very big deal for Asia’s economic future … [and] an even bigger deal for Asia’s changing political and strategic order.” The U.S. worries that the AIIB, which will provide development loans within the region, might not meet high governance standards.