TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Over the past several weeks, state officials have said repeatedly that Taiwan will accept admission to the Beijing-led Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) only on terms of dignity and equality, or not at all.
Yesterday, after China announced that it has rejected Taiwan's bid to become a "founding member," the central government said Taiwan will now seek membership as an "ordinary member" - again, on terms of dignity and equality.
To that end, Taiwan is resolved to only accept ordinary membership under the designation of "Chinese Taipei," and not as "Taiwan, China," said Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng after a meeting with the Cabinet.
For Taiwan, odds are good that it can join the AIIB later as an ordinary member, possibly even under the preferred designation of Chinese Taipei.
But whether Taiwan enters as Chinese Taipei or Taiwan, China is no longer so important. China's rejection of Taiwan's founding membership bid has already subordinated Taiwan as a non-nation, and its actions today signal actions tomorrow that will be influenced by political priorities.
The Only Exception
The difference between founding member and ordinary member is not apparent, as the circle of founders, which on Sunday expanded to welcome Georgia, Finland, Denmark, Brazil and the Netherlands, has yet to create the rules and regulations.
The only fact known by the Finance Ministry, which is handling Taiwan's bid, is that founding members have the right to create these rules and regulations.
But even without the fine print, Beijing's message to Taiwan is clear.
Founders can discuss rules; ordinary members play by them. Under the PRC's "one China" policy, Taiwan is not to sit at the same table as the other nations.
A total of 47 countries applied to join the AIIB before the March 31 deadline for founding members. Despite US and Japan efforts to steer allies away from the financial venture, nearly all nations in Asia and most major countries elsewhere are accepted or have applications pending.
Beijing has said the final roster of founding members will be released on April 15. So far, the AIIB has disqualified no formal applicant besides Taiwan.
Foreign media report that the AIIB rebuffed an informal advance from North Korea in February, but China's Foreign Ministry has denied it, saying all parties are welcome to promote infrastructure-building.
Even if Taiwan joins the AIIB at a later date, there are still benefits that a politically fraught proposition could bring.
The Finance Ministry has said that participating in the AIIB, either as a founder or an ordinary member, would widen market opportunity for local construction firms, raise Taiwan's international profile and deepen regional integration, all in return for a minor financial investment.
For a state in relative regional isolation, these gains could very well be greater than the cost.
But especially because Taiwan is in political and economic limbo, state officials need to face the hard truths head-on. In the end, if Taiwan decides to accept AIIB membership as Chinese Taipei, no one should be under the illusion that the entry is on terms of dignity.