To Each their Bank: China’s Infrastructure Investment Bank

Jakarta slum 2006 image from wikipedia

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB )reflects China’s new eagerness to institutionalise its official lending abroad, which has been generous but contentious….It is billed as China’s “21st-century” answer to lenders like the World Bank (always led by Americans) and the Asian Development Bank (dominated by Japan)…

China’s financial commitment to the AIIB is equivalent to less than one percent of its remaining reserves. Almost 70% of the institution’s $100 billion of capital is drawn from its other 56 participants. It will also raise money by issuing bonds of its own. Far from being a fair-weather folly, the AIIB appears well-timed. Global capital has retreated from emerging markets, leaving a gap the AIIB will help fill. By the same token, the retreating dollars are sheltering in safe assets, such as the highly rated bonds the AIIB proposes to sell.

Unlike the World Bank, which is pulled hither and thither by its members, the AIIB will keep a tighter focus on infrastructure. It has no sitting board or permanent branch offices in borrowing countries. It is also quick, approving four projects within six months of its launch date. More established multilateral lenders can take a year or two to do the same. Some fear the AIIB will deviate from prevailing norms in other, more troubling ways—undercutting environmental standards, say. But of its first four projects, three are joint ventures with existing institutions, subject to their protocols. Its $217m project to improve slum-life in 154 Indonesian cities, led by a veteran of the World Bank, seems alert to the dangers of soil erosion and groundwater pollution. Likewise, its road-improvement plan in Tajikistan, administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, will tactfully relocate a monument to Avicenna, a Persian polymath who memorised the Koran by the age of ten….

If international financial institutions make room for China, it may bypass them anyway, but if they do not, it definitely will. The AIIB’s first solo venture will bring electricity to 2.5m rural homes in Bangladesh. That is not the only kind of power distribution that needs modernising.

Excerpt from The AIIB: The infrastructure of power, Economist, July 2, 2016

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