March 31, 2015 / 6:48 AM / 2 years ago

Taiwan, Norway seek to join China-backed AIIB, Japan still cautious

China's President Xi Jinping (front C) poses for photos with guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing October 24, 2014.Takaki Yajima/Pool

TOKYO/TAIPEI (Reuters) - Japan remains cautious about signing up to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), indicating that Tokyo will miss the March 31 deadline for application, but both Taiwan and Norway said they would seek to join the institution.

Finance Minister Taro Aso reiterated Japan's concerns about governance at the AIIB, its debt sustainability and environmental and social safeguards.

"Unless these conditions are secured, Japan has no choice but to be very cautious about joining," Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Taiwan sought to join the proposed development bank despite historical animosity and a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the island and China.

In a statement released late on Monday, Taiwan presidential office spokesman Charles Chen said joining the AIIB will help Taiwan in its efforts at regional economic integration and raise the possibility of joining other multinational bodies.

It was not immediately known whether Beijing would accept Taiwan's application to join the AIIB.

Asked about Taiwan's application, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: "Our principle has not changed, and that is that it will be an open, inclusive and multilateral organization which we welcome all sides to join.

"But for Taiwan's application to join, it should abide by the relevant principles, which is to avoid the problem appearing of 'two Chinas' or 'one China, one Taiwan'."

China views Taiwan as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control. However, since Taiwan's current president Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, enmity has declined considerably and the two sides have signed a number of trade and investment deals.

Most countries, including the United States, do not recognize Taiwan due to pressure from China. Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund.

The AIIB is seen as a significant setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and balance China's growing financial clout and assertiveness.

China has set a March 31 deadline to become a founding member of the AIIB and over 40 nations have joined or said they intend to, adding clout to an institution seen as enhancing Beijing's regional and global influence.

Norway also said it wanted to join as a prospective founder member.

"Norway is a substantial contributor to global development efforts, and wishes to join countries from Asia and other parts of the world in further refining the structure and mission of the AIIB," Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said in a statement on a government website.

China's finance ministry said that Kyrgyzstan had applied to become a member too.

Japan and the United States are the two notable absentees.

The AIIB is seen as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and has drawn a cool response from the United States, although many of Washington's allies, including Australia, South Korea, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have announced they would join the bank.

Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto in TOKYO, Jeanny Kao and Michael Gold in TAIPEI, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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