Norway among 57 members for new China-led bank

BEIJING (AFP) - A total of 57 countries have been approved as founding members of a new Chinese-backed infrastructure bank, Beijing said Wednesday, including Norway, despite relations being in a diplomatic deep freeze since a Chinese dissident won a Nobel prize.

No nations that formally sought to become founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are known to have been refused, although Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing regards as part of its own territory, had its application rejected.

The latest seven countries approved as founding members by Wednesday's deadline were named by China's finance ministry as Sweden, Israel, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Iceland, Portugal and Poland.

They bring the total number of founding members to 57, including four of the United Nations Security Council's permanent five, 14 of the 28 European Union countries, and 21 members of the 34-strong Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The line-up does not include the United States or Japan but represents a diplomatic coup for China after close US allies such as Britain, France, Germany and Australia decided to participate even after Washington initially opposed them signing up.

The institution is aimed at financing infrastructure development in Asia but critics have expressed concern about its standards and that it could rival the US-led World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which is headed by Japan.

China has repeatedly said the institution is "open and inclusive" and Norway's approval came despite Beijing cutting all high-level ties with Oslo after the Nobel Peace Prize went to Liu Xiaobo in 2010.

The Norwegian government has repeatedly maintained that the Nobel Committee is independent and makes its own choices, but Chinese authorities have torpedoed any attempts at normalising relations.

Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of its territory awaiting unification since a civil war in 1949 and as such opposes international recognition for it, had its application for founding membership rejected. China said it would welcome the island to join in the future "under an appropriate name".