A compromise that allows both China and Taiwan to be members of the Asian Development Bank could set a precedent for participation by the two rival governments in other international organizations, according to U.S. analysts.
China formally takes its seat today when the annual meeting of the bank opens in Manila. Taiwan, already a member of the bank, remains a member, but under an agreement worked out between China and the bank, Taiwan goes under a different name: Taipei, China. Taipei is the capital of Taiwan.
The agreement last fall between the bank and China allowed both China and Taiwan, for the first time, to belong to an international organization whose members are governments. Until that time, both countries had been members only of various sports, cultural and academic organizations that are private and nongovernmental.
The arrangement, in the view of analysts here, raises the possibility of participation in other international organizations. It is also a positive step toward eventually finding a political reconciliation between the mainland and the island, they said.
The changing of Taiwan's name, for bank purposes, to Taipei, China, was suggested by Washington and satisfied the mainland's longstanding position that the island of Taiwan is part of China.
Last week, Taiwan announced that it would not send a delegation to the bank's annual meeting in order to protest the change in designation.
Taiwan's decision to stay home, however, appears to be more of a tactical and face-saving gesture aimed at defusing domestic criticism from hard-liners in the Taiwan government, U.S. analysts said.
Many of the more conservative government officials have argued that Taiwan should have nothing to do with the Communists.
If both China and Taiwan remain bank members, "Then it might be some precedent for future international organizations," said one State Department official.
The agreement is significant, according to a congressional analyst who follows China and Taiwan closely, "because it raises the possibility that a way can be found for Taiwan to be a member of other bodies in which the People's Republic of China holds China's seat, but where Taiwan is willing to have a representation other than as a national government."
"It's certainly better for them to be sitting down and being civil to each other rather than arguing outside the door over who should be sitting at the table," the analyst said.
In addition to the name change, the flags of the individual member countries will no longer be flown. They are to be replaced by the flag of the Manila-based bank and the flag of the host country.
"It's an indication that Peking and Taiwan are prepared to sit in the same organization," said another U.S. official.
Peking seems to be prepared to accept "greater ambiguity" than in the past about which government represents China, the official said, and Taipei may have to put up with the name changes as part of the solution while denouncing them publicly to save face.
The suggestion for the island to be called Taipei, China, was put forward by Washington after the Taiwanese rejected China's proposal to call the island Taiwan, China, according to Chinese officials.
"Obviously, we have an interest in seeing Taiwan continue to function as an international identity," said one U.S. official.
"We are well aware of the erosion of its diplomatic position . . . We think the bank approach is a good one because it allows for continued full membership, not a subordinate one."
One Chinese official said the bank agreement was an "independent arrangement and independent decision." He acknowledged that the model, in the long run, "maybe has some influence" in other situations.
The Asian Development Bank is a multilateral organization that serves 32 developing and newly industrializing countries in the Asia and Pacific region. It is owned by these governments and 15 industrialized nations, including Japan and the United States.
U.S. officials said the International Cotton Advisory Committee, an organization of 45 cotton producers and consumers with headquarters in Washington, might be the next battleground. China, the world's largest cotton producer, is not a member; Taiwan is.
Officials at the organization said they have not been formally approached by China about membership but said they "have been in contact with people in China" about the exchange of cotton information. Special Correspondent Abby Tan contributed to this report from Manila.