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AIIB issue raised in Taiwan-China talks
by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) May 23, 2015

China-backed infrastructure bank operational by end-2015: statement
Singapore (AFP) May 22, 2015 - The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will be operational by the end of this year, prospective founding members said Friday after a three-day meeting in Singapore to discuss policies.

The chief negotiators' meeting involving the AIIB's 57 prospective members "concluded discussions and finalised the articles of agreement for the AIIB," said a statement by the bank's interim multilateral secretariat.

The articles of agreement are expected to be "ready for signing by the end of June and the AIIB would be operational by the end of this year," the statement said.

"In the three-day meeting, the chief negotiators also discussed the draft environmental and social framework and draft procurement policy framework, among other topics," it added.

The meeting in Singapore, the fifth round of talks since the bank was mooted in October, was co-chaired by Shi Yaobin, China's vice minister of finance, and Yee Ping Yi, deputy secretary of Singapore's finance ministry.

The conclusion of the meeting came a day after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a $110 billion investment plan for infrastructure projects in Asia in an apparent move to counter the launch of the AIIB.

The sum is just slightly higher than the expected $100 billion capital of the AIIB.

Japan and the United States were the biggest standouts earlier this year when Beijing began courting members for the AIIB.

Washington led a high-profile, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to dissuade allies from taking part in the project, which critics say will not demand the same good-governance and environmental standards imposed by other international bodies, such as the Asian Development Bank, a long-established body in which Tokyo plays a key role.

But supporters say fears over undue Chinese influence are overblown, and that the participation by more than 50 countries, including ones as diverse as Britain and Iran, will dilute Beijing's power.

China's top Taiwan affairs official Zhang Zhijun met his Taiwanese counterpart Saturday, with Beijing's rejection of Taipei as a founding member of a China-led regional infrastructure bank a key issue on the agenda.

China last month dashed the island's hopes of becoming a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), though a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at the time it could join under an "appropriate name".

The issue was raised as Zhang, director of China's Taiwan affairs office, met Andrew Hsia, chairman of Taiwan's top China policy decision-making body, the Mainland Affairs Council, in Kinmen -- a Taiwan-administered island off China's Xiamen city.

"The mainland side again voiced their welcome to our desires of attending AIIB," the council said in a statement after the meeting.

China and Taiwan split at the end of the civil war in 1949 when the Kuomintang fled the mainland after a defeat at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. But Beijing still regards the island as a province awaiting reunification.

As a result, China routinely opposes moves by Taiwan to join international organisations, arguing it is not a country.

Earlier this month, the head of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party (KMT) Eric Chu said he remained "optimistic" about joining the bank and proposed joining under the name "Chinese Taipei".

Trade agreements, the opening of liaison offices and joint efforts to battle crimes were also discussed during the meeting, which is part of a two day visit by Zhang.

In his opening speech, Hsia hailed the significance of the meeting at Kinmen, which was the scene of a fierce 44-day bombardment by the Chinese army beginning on August 23, 1958, which killed 618 servicemen and civilians and injuring more than 2,600.

- Angry protests -

Zhang's visit was met by angry members from the anti-China Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) who waved placards and shouted, "Oppose Hsia-Zhang meeting! Taiwan interests betrayed!"

The demonstration turned violent after a TSU protester hurled a smoke grenade at Zhang's motorcade leading to a confrontation with around 20 China supporters who pushed their way through the police line that separated the two groups, police said.

Five people were injured with four of them hospitalised, police said, adding that one pro-China protester was also arrested.

"Taiwan is a democratic country, any use of violence should be strongly condemned," Hsu Ya-chi of TSU told AFP.

Tensions between Taiwan and China have decreased markedly since 2008 after Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly KMT came to power promising to beef up trade and tourism links.

But recently public sentiment in Taiwan has once again turned against closer ties with Beijing, with voters saying trade deals have been agreed in secret and have not benefited ordinary citizens.

In March last year, around 200 students occupied parliament for more than three weeks to demonstrate against a controversial services trade pact, while thousands rallied in support of what became known as the "Sunflower Movement".

The KMT suffered its worst-ever showing in local polls in November -- seen as a barometer for presidential elections in 2016 -- with its Beijing-friendly policy blamed for alienating voters.

Despite the setback, the embattled Ma has repeatedly defended the rapprochement with China, saying it has turned Taiwan Strait, once one of the flash points in Asia, into a peaceful area.

Taiwan lowers growth forecast in face of rival China
Taipei (AFP) May 22, 2015 - Taiwan lowered its growth forecast Friday blaming increased competition from China in the tech industry, as the island's stagnant economy stokes public frustration.

Gross domestic product was predicted to grow 3.28 percent in 2015, the statistics bureau said, 0.5 percent lower than its previous forecast.

"Looking forward, the prolonged sluggish growth in global economy and strong competition from abroad, especially from mainland China in (the) IT industry may limit Taiwan's export momentum," the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics in a statement.

Traditionally an export-driven technology hub, Taiwan has benefited from Apple's new iPhone6, launched last year -- a number of leading Taiwanese firms such as Foxconn and TSMC are reportedly among Apple's suppliers.

But China has been pushing to grow its own tech industry with the development of domestic smartphone brands and homegrown hardware, including chips.

"The constant development by China to be self-sufficient intensified competition against factories in Taiwan, resulting in slower growth in demand of mobile devices," the statistics bureau said.

Taiwan's predicted annual growth rate for 2015 was lower than last year, when GDP rose 3.77 percent overall.

The bureau also revised down the growth figure for the first quarter of 2015 to 3.37 percent compared to the same quarter in 2014 -- it had been estimated at 3.46 percent.

It comes at a time when economic stagnation and a lack of job and housing opportunities for younger generations are putting pressure on the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party ahead of presidential elections in January 2016.

However, the first quarter rise was a reflection of some gains from exports of goods and services, the statement said, as well as "moderate growth of private consumption and investment".

Taiwan's economy was buoyed last year by a steady recovery in developed countries as well as record-high exports and rising domestic consumption.

But growth then slowed in the three months to December due to lower-than-expected overseas demand for goods and weaker domestic spending.

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