Nations Line Up to Join China-Led Infrastructure Bank

Bridging Asia: Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, poses with early supporters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing on March 24, 2015 (top); Chinese engineers work to build a multi-lane bridge across the Mekong, connecting Thailand with Laos

JAKARTA: March 31 marked the deadline for charter founders to line up for the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, 亚洲基础设施投资银行, or AIIB initiative. At the last moment Norway, Taiwan and others rushed to find the good graces of the Chinese opportunity. Many countries seek Asian influence, and Washington has been miffed by Chinese rejection of its traditional actors – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. The US and Japan, initially cool but now perhaps contemplating some eventual partnership, will remain on the sidelines.

A Chinese proverb says “they sleep in the same bed but dream different dreams.” The AIIB founding members are a diverse group with a range of investment agendas:

South Korea, marginalized in the Asian Development Bank, and despite US misgivings, expects to take a stake of upwards of 5 percent in the AIIB. With it heavy equipment industry, Hyundai, Doosan and infrastructure prowess in everything from roads to ports to bridges with GS, Hanwha and POSCO, South Korea will not play second-place against Japanese industry.

Australia, another country the US had leaned heavily on not to join, counts China among its main export markets for coal, copper and iron ore through its mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto and Leighton – creating the industrial might for major infrastructure projects.

The United Kingdom, the first major EU country to clamor for AIIB membership, mystified Washington by keeping it out of the loop during secret negotiations. While the UK’s major interests in accomodating China are unclear, it undoubtedly hopes to regain Asian influence lost after the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.