In October 2014, China’s government formally established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Its stated purpose was to provide infrastructure financing for Asia. The Bank was immediately seen by many as a rival global financial institution to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and its formation was immediately attacked by the U.S. government.
Compared to the Asian Development Bank, with a capital base consisting of funds paid in and pledged of $160 billion and the World Bank’s capital base of $223 billion, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will start with $50 billion of capital contributed by China. The Asian Infrastructure Development Bank has a goal of achieving $100 billion.
The key difference to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank is the word “infrastructure” in the name of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This focus on infrastructure is key.
Reacting to the social and political objectives of advanced economies, including most notably the United States and western European countries, loans from both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank not only provide funding for infrastructure but also social policy objectives including environmental protection and gender equity. In contrast, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will focus solely on infrastructure development.
Infrastructure is critical for Asia and the continent’s economic and social development. Estimates indicate that $8.22 trillion in infrastructure investment is needed for Asia over the ten-year period from 2010 to 2020. It’s easy to compare this huge infrastructure requirement to the minimal infrastructure investments made by both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. For the financial year 2014, the World Bank spent $24.2 billion globally on infrastructure and the Asian Development Bank’s total expenditures, which included infrastructure, totaled $211 billion.
The need for massive infrastructure development is clear when population and per capita gross domestic product are analyzed. More than 700 million people in Asia live below the poverty line. Of these, more than half live in South Asia. Some of the world’s least-developed countries, those most in need of massive infrastructure development, include Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. For comparative purposes, the most recent data indicates that per-capita GDP approximates $1200 for Myanmar, $1000 for Cambodia and $1600 for Laos, compared to approximately $7000 for China and $39,000 for Japan.
Throughout Asia, infrastructure development is a necessity to provide and support economic growth, improve the environment and increase telecommunications and internet connectivity within the region and globally.
Key to Beijing’s decision to form the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was its conclusion that existing global financial institutions, most notably the World Bank and the Asian Business Development Bank, lacked the focus, desire or the resources to meet Asia’s infrastructure needs. Stated Bank infrastructure development objectives were identified as the construction of railways, airports, and telecommunications projects throughout the region.
China was also motivated to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank due to the lack of reforms at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to reflect an increased role of developing countries in the global economy. Based both on population and economic output, developing countries are underrepresented at all three institutions.
Governance of these global financial institutions is also a continuing issue for developing countries. The Asian Development Bank continues to be dominated by Japan and the United States, with each country having twice as many votes as China. This governance is a lack of acknowledgment of China having the largest economy in Asia and the world’s second largest economy.
While China’s economy is approximately the same size as that of the United States, it has less than one-third the number of World Bank votes than the U.S. China’s voting power at the World Bank is only slightly more than that of France, which has an economy one-sixth its size.
The BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa collectively comprise 21 percent of the world’s economy, and 43 percent of the world’s population, but their votes at the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are miniscule relative to the size of their economies and populations. Together they hold 11 percent of the voting shares at the International Monetary Fund and 14 percent of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Five years ago there was an attempt to adjust minimally the voting at the International Monetary Fund, the sister institution to the World Bank. That effort failed, to a large extent due to the dysfunctional relationship between America’s President Obama and its Congress. The lack of progress in reforming the International Monetary Fund’s governance solidified Beijing’s resolve to change international finance by taking proactive steps to establish a new Asian economic order, with the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as an early step.
The establishment of the Asian Investment Development Bank was a triumph for Beijing. Publicly and behind the scenes, America aggressively lobbied its allies to not participate. When the bank was inaugurated, the American allies, South Korea, Indonesia and Australia were conspicuously absent. While the U.S. indicate concerns regarding the Bank’s environmental impact, governance, labor and purchasing standards, the real reason was blatantly clear. The U.S. saw China’s role in establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a threat to the continuing dominance of global financial institutions by the U.S. and its allies.
For Asia’s developing countries, the strong U.S. opposition to the establishment of the Bank reflected a cold-war way of thinking that wasn’t responsive to their development objectives and their aspirations for their countries’ future.
As of mid-April 2015 the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank had 57 countries as charter members, including America’s staunch allies, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and South Korea. Fourteen of the Group of 20 industrialized nations are now members. China, based on its gross domestic product, is the largest shareholder of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but as new countries join, its percentage ownership will decrease.
The establishment of the Asian Infrastrastructure Development Bank was a diplomatic success for China and a foreign policy and diplomatic failure for the United States. To a large extent, the United States only has itself to blame for the Bank’s establishment.
The establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank by China is an event that is shaking up the post-World War II, American led, global financial order. It should be seen by the United States as a real warning shot, is indicative of the decline of U.S. global power and the disarray of U.S. foreign policy. In the end, the U.S. failure to persuade its closest allies not to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, speaks for itself.
It’s logical to assume that China will rightly use the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to extend its influence in Asia, at the expense of the United States and Japan. If this occurs, it will be similar to how advanced economies used the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to advance their own agendas over the past decades.
The establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a platform for China to challenge Western-backed global financial institutions. The Bank should have a significant impact on Asia’s developing countries and will enhance China’s role and stature in the region.
The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank will bring billions of dollars of new investments to Asia and as importantly will provide a greater voice to developing countries in their development future than their current limited role at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
The Bank will also provide China with an option for some of its large foreign exchange reserves of almost $4 trillion. specifically the repatriation of some of these funds from Euros, dollars and Swiss Francs to development within its Asian sphere of influence.
My hope for China and all of Asia is that the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank will jolt other global multilateral financial institutions to be more inclusive, and usher in a new era of global cooperation between mature and developing countires, which will benefit the entire planet.
Author: Jeffrey Friedland
Jeffrey Friedland is CEO of the financial services firm Friedland Global Capital, which provides corporate finance and strategic advisory services to entrepreneurial companies in emerging and frontier markets.
He first traveled to China in 1988, opened an office in China in 2003 and continues to make frequent visits to the Asia-Pacific region, including China. He is an author, speaker and thought leader on emerging and frontier markets, and the global economy.
Mr.Friedland has been the chief executive officer and a director of a NASDAQ listed financial services company, a director of a New York Stock Exchange listed company with all of its business operations in China and chairman of the board of a Frankfurt Stock Exchange listed company with Chinese operations
Mr. Friedland is author of the book, All Roads Lead to China, which is an investor road map to the world’s fastest growing economy, which is available in both print and Amazon Kindle versions.
He has been featured or quoted in numerous publications and media including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NBC News, CNBC, the South China Morning Post and Forbes, and is a regular contributor to Money China.
Mr. Friedland has been a frequent speaker at conferences and events throughout North America, Europe and Asia, including speeches to individual and institutional investors on emerging and frontier markets.