World Trade Organization OKs Taiwan

Members of the World Trade Organization formally cleared Taiwan for admission Tuesday, a day after China was approved, Japanese diplomats said. 

Terms for Taiwan's admission were completed 18 months ago but the final decision was delayed because of a 1992 understanding that China would join first. 

The 142 WTO governments on Tuesday approved a 1,200-page document setting out the terms for Taiwan's membership in the body that sets global rules on international trade. 

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of Chinese territory, at first objected to Taiwan's joining at all. It finally agreed Taiwan could join the WTO because it is a separate customs territory with different rules on importing goods. It will not be regarded as a country in its own right. 

Hong Kong and Macau, both recently handed back to China, are also separate members of the WTO. 

Tuesday's decision opens the way for both China and Taiwan to be formally approved for membership at a meeting of trade ministers planned for Doha, Qatar, in November. The two would then likely become full WTO members early next year, following ratification by their own parliaments. 

China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949, and Beijing considers the island to be a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. 

Taiwan held the China seat at the United Nations until 1971, when the General Assembly voted to oust the Taiwan government and replace it with the mainland People's Republic. 

China's opposition to Taiwan's status as a country in its own right has blocked its membership of the United Nations and other international bodies, but Beijing has made exceptions for bodies that deal exclusively with economic issues.