This article examines the process, causes and repercussions of the accession of Taiwan, as a contested state, together with China, to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1991, the first intergovernmental organization that Taipei has joined since 1971. Based on an analysis of elite interviews, primary and secondary data, the paper traces the under-explored diplomatic history of the accession. It argues that changes in Taiwan's domestic and external environments, as well as changes in the diplomatic process, account for Taipei's admission, rather than the China factor alone. The paper examines four positive effects of accession on Taiwan's international space and the implications for Taiwan's continuous survival as a contested state. By undertaking a nuanced analysis of an important yet little explored milestone in the contested state's struggle to mitigate its international isolation, the article sheds light on Taiwan's external ties against the backdrop of the sovereignty dispute between Taipei and Beijing.