China-led AIIB adds 13 members, bringing total to 70

Last year, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank backed nine projects in seven countries, giving out US$1.76 billion (S$2.5 billion) worth of loans.
Last year, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank backed nine projects in seven countries, giving out US$1.76 billion (S$2.5 billion) worth of loans.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has approved 13 new members, including Hong Kong and Canada, bringing its membership to 70.

This is the first time that the development bank, which also counts Singapore as a member, has expanded its membership since its inception in January 2015.

The approved applicants include eight non-Asian countries - Canada, Belgium, Ethiopia, Hungary, Ireland, Peru, Republic of Sudan and Venezuela - and five regional members - Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Armenia, Fiji and Timor Leste.

The expansion comes as the United States plans to cut funding for foreign development assistance.

Observers say, given Washington's retreat, that Beijing looks poised to expand its influence in development finance through AIIB.

RAPID PROGRESS

The interest in joining AIIB from around the world affirms the rapid progress we have made to establish the bank as an international institution.

AIIB PRESIDENT JIN LIQUN

"The interest in joining AIIB from around the world affirms the rapid progress we have made to establish the bank as an international institution," said AIIB president Jin Liqun in a press statement.

He said on Monday that AIIB could address inequality amid a backlash against globalisation. He added that the AIIB, which has developing countries as the majority shareholders, is different from existing international institutions, where the rules of the game are decided by developed countries.

Analysts say a wave of anti-globalisation sentiments in the West presents a chance for China to play a bigger role in global trade and finance, but AIIB needs to prove its worth.

Finance professor Zhao Xijun of Renmin University said AIIB's focus on infrastructure investment is more targeted, which directly benefits countries in need.

"This is China's chance, as well as everyone's chance, to play a bigger role to jointly take the lead."

But Mr Takamoto Suzuki, a senior economist at Marubeni Research Institute in Beijing, said: "There are still many who are wary of AIIB's commitment to international cooperation. They think that the bank is prioritising projects that Beijing wants to do."

Last year, the bank backed nine projects in seven countries, giving out US$1.76 billion (S$2.5 billion) worth of loans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'China-led AIIB adds 13 members, bringing total to 70'. Print Edition | Subscribe