Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Promise and Responsibility

This article was specifically requested as an op-ed by the Renmin Ribao at very short notice. I submitted it in early December 2014 in English and they sent a Chinese translation for my approval. I approved it but it was then never published.

English original

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a sign of Asian commitment to both regional and global economic development. Besides promoting regional connectivity and self-reliance for Asian countries, the AIIB also creates opportunities for developed countries in the form of greater investment opportunities as well as for promoting their own economic recovery.  As the Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei has pointed out, historically, the establishment of regional multilateral development banks such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development did not weaken the influence of existing development banks such as the World Bank. Rather, it was the total capacity of development financing that increased promoting still further development of the global economy. Thus, the AIIB will be an additional source for development financing in the Asian region with a specific focus on infrastructure and in contrast to the ADB with its focus on poverty alleviation.

Just as important, and as Minister Lou stated, the AIIB appears willing to learn from the good experiences and practices of other multilateral development banks accumulated over several decades. This is especially important as Asian nations today, do not have the luxury of repeating the mistakes of the past and must, in fact, enforce even higher standards, in ensuring labour rights and environmental protection, for example. As in the case of the BRICS New Development Bank, where an Indian official is slated to be the first head, it must be hoped that the AIIB’s leadership too, will draw on the expertise of countries like India with its excellent tradition of banking and financial sector regulatory frameworks. To quote a recent statistic, the Securities and Exchange Board of India that regulates the Indian stock market was recently ranked 7th worldwide for investor protection, the highest among the BRICS nations and higher even than many advanced economies such as the US, Japan, France and Germany. Significantly, this was a huge jump from its 21st rank in 2013. Such high scores on other economic parameters make India a natural participant and leader in Asia’s multilateral initiatives as well as a partner for China in establishing and strengthening new initiatives.

As a fellow developing country and rising economic power with China, India will no doubt play an important role in the success of such initiatives as the BRICS New Development Bank, the AIIB and the ‘one belt, one road’ initiative. In this context, it is noteworthy that the AIIB has been declared as an open and inclusive institution with possibilities for still more countries joining in addition to the original 21 members. Asia is a region where sensitivities about history and sovereignty abound and it does not need new causes of conflict and antagonism. Open and inclusive multilateralism is the way to go for the region and will hopefully help consign to the dustbin of history, past conflicts between governments and nations so that people-to-people contacts between countries can grow and flourish.

While another major multilateral bank, the World Bank, has welcomed the creation of the AIIB, the US has, for the moment, declared its opposition and even succeeded in preventing Australia and South Korea from signing on to the new bank. However, there are already murmurs of protest in Australia and South Korea is in any case, in the midst of intense negotiations for a free trade agreement with China, indicating that it is only a matter of time before these countries also join the AIIB. Even in the US, there is debate about Washington should not, in fact, be joining the new bank. Until that happens, however, Sino-US competition in this regard is not a situation the rest of Asia would look forward to. So China should show greater creativity and vision in order to overcome American objections and maintain Asia as a region of peace and development.

Asia’s new multilateral initiatives should not be an excuse for any one country to exercise dominance or hegemony in the Asian continent. Clearly, China is one of Asia’s preeminent powers. Other countries like Japan, Indonesia and India are all significant political and economic players on the continent but while Japan is not growing as fast as it used to, Indonesia and India are yet to reach their full potential. In the interval, it is Beijing that has taken the lead and seeks to knit the continent together, as well it should.

The AIIB is an exercise that will eventually involve hundreds of billions of dollars worth of investments over the coming decades and China’s rapid economic growth has placed it in a position where it can put a great deal of the required money on the table. In addition to promising to fund half of the US$50 billion startup capital for the AIIB, China has announced a further US$40 billion worth of investments as part of a new Silk Roads fund much of which again, will go into infrastructure development.

While the money will be welcome in most of Asia, Beijing must be careful that this ability does not turn into a new kind of hegemony over countries that require such investments. One of the reasons that Western countries and their aid and development experts were looked at unkindly by the Third World and as engaging in a new form of colonialism was because they used their wealth and expertise to underline their own importance and superiority in poor countries. It is with great difficulty that the Third World has begun to shake off this yoke of Western dominance. Countries in Asia, many of which only got rid of imperialism a few decades ago, will not want to replace Western dominance with Chinese political and economic hegemony.

China therefore, has the duty to act as both a responsible leader with respect for international law and norms and a friendly and respectful partner. Of course, such responsibilities extend to all nations, including India, that seek a leadership role. Beijing has taken a good initiative by proposing and promoting the AIIB and trying to get as many countries involved as possible. Now it has the more difficult task of carry along all its partners for the longer journey ahead.
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Translated Chinese version from the Renmin Ribao  

 亚投行:承诺与责任

      亚洲基础设施银行表明了亚洲对于地区和全球经济合作的承诺。它既能促进亚洲国家的地区连接和自力更生,同时也为发达国家创造了更多投资机会,从而可以促进它们的经济复苏。中国财政部长楼继伟曾指出,历史上亚洲开发银行和欧洲复兴开发银行等地区多边发展银行并没有削弱世界银行等现存发展银行的影响。相反,所有这些发展信贷能力依旧持续推动全球经济的发展。因此,亚投行关注于基础设施,亚洲开发银行关注减贫,亚投行将是亚洲地区发展信贷的补充。

它十分重要,如同楼继伟所指出的,亚投行愿意学习多边发展银行数十年所积累的好的经验和做法。这对于今天的亚洲国家尤为重要,它们不能重复过去的错误,必须在劳工权利和环境保护等方面执行更高的标准。金砖国家银行任命了一名印度人为第一任行长,希望亚投行也能如此,这就可以从印度等具有杰出的银行金融监管框架传统的国家获取更多专业知识。最新统计,就投资者保护而言,印度证交所位列世界第7,排名在金砖国家中最高,甚至高于美国、日本、法国、德国等发达国家。重要的是,它去年排第21位,这是巨大的跨越。其他经济指标的优良表现使得印度成为亚洲多边机制的天然参与者和领导者,同时也是中国建立和加强新机制的伙伴。

       印度是与中国相同的发展中国家和崛起的经济大国,它无疑将会在金砖国家的新发展银行、亚投行和“一带一路”等机制的成功中扮演重要角色。值得注意的是,亚投行已被宣布为开放的和包容性的机制,未来可能会有更多国家加入。亚洲地区充满了历史和主权的敏感性,它不再需要新的冲突和敌意了。开放和包容的多边机制是亚洲地区的必由之路,它有望把国家和政府间过去的冲突扫进历史的垃圾堆,而增进和活跃国家之间的人员交流。

世界银行欢迎亚投行的创立,美国目前反对之,它甚至成功地阻挠了澳大利亚和韩国签约入行。然而,澳大利亚和韩国正在加紧与中国的自由贸易磋商,它们对于美国做法已有不满,这表明,它们加入亚投行只是时间问题。甚至美国内部也在讨论是否要加入亚投行。亚洲国家不希望看到美国与中国在这一方面的竞争,因此中国应当表现出更大的创造性和视角,以克服美国的反对,保持亚洲地区的和平与发展。

亚洲任何国家都不应当利用亚洲新多边机制实施主导或称霸亚洲的目的。很明显,中国是亚洲最为杰出的国家之一。尽管日本的增长没有过去那么快,印度尼西亚和印度也没有发挥出它们全部的潜能,日本、印度尼西亚、印度等依然亚洲重要的政治和经济参与者。在此情况下,中国担负起了领导角色,谋求将亚洲连结在一起,它理当如此。

未来数十年,亚投行的资本将可能达到上千亿美元,中国经济快速增长,这也使它可以提供很多资金。除了承诺向亚投行提供一半的启动资金外,中国还宣布将投资400亿美元用于新丝绸之路基金,这也将流入基础设施发展领域。

尽管大部分亚洲国家都将欢迎这些资金,但中国应当注意,这一能力不应当成为对于需要资金的其他国家的新霸权。第三世界之所以对西方国家、它们的仆从和发展专家不太友好,就是因为后者的新殖民主义。它们通过钱和专业知识强调了自己对于穷国的重要性和主导性。第三世界国家数十年前才从西方主导的束缚中艰难挣脱出来。大部分亚洲国家数十年前才摆脱了帝国主义,它们不想中国的政治和经济霸权取代了西方的主导地位。

因此,中国应当成为尊重国际法律和秩序的负责人的领导者和友好的、令人尊敬的伙伴。当然,对于包括印度在内的所有追求领导地位的国家而言,都应承担这一责任。中国已经积极主动地提出、推动亚投行,并试图吸引越来越多的国家参与。现在,与它的伙伴朝着未来长远的征程迈进是更艰巨的任务。

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