US 'still welcome' to join China-led AIIB

BEIJING • One year after opening with 57 charter members, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank remains open to the United States joining, president Jin Liqun said.

"The door will remain that way," Mr Jin said in a Bloomberg Television interview, when asked whether he expects the US would reconsider becoming a member.

"We maintain a consistent policy. The AIIB is a multilateral development institution," he said.

About 30 countries are waiting to join, Mr Jin said  at the bank's headquarters. The lender with US$100 billion (S$144 billion) of pledged capital, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's push to expand the nation's global influence, backed nine projects in seven countries last year.

Before it opened last January, Mr Barack Obama rejected joining, only to see several of the closest American allies sign up. Now Beijing is preparing for the incoming US administration of Mr Donald Trump, who is already straining ties before taking office on Jan 20.

Mr Jin, a former deputy finance minister who also has worked at the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank on China's behalf, is still optimistic despite recent tensions. "We can work very well together," Mr Jin said, adding that senior officials in the US government have shared with him their praise for the new institution.

The AIIB got a boost last year when the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy became members. Other American allies such as Australia, South Korea and Canada also joined, leaving the US and Japan as the only Group of Seven holdouts.

The bank lent US$1.73 billion last year, exceeding an earlier target of US$1.2 billion.

Mr Jin, one of the first postgraduate students to study English literature after China's Cultural Revolution, is fluent in English and French, and translated The House Of Morgan, a book on the JP Morgan empire by American author Ron Chernow, into Chinese in 1996.

He also served as supervisory chairman of the country's sovereign wealth fund.

Now, he said, he is confident the country's economy will fare well during its transition to new drivers of growth.

"China is faced with a number of challenges, particularly restructuring the economy, moving from excessive dependence on external sectors to domestic consumption, and improving the efficiency of the Chinese economy, not aiming at simply the numbers of the growth," he said.

Factories and services activities capped a year of strengthening across several indicators. But under the hood, risks remain: Increasing pressure on the yuan, rising capital outflows and concern that Mr Trump may make good on threats of punitive measures against China's exports.

"China is a very much resilient country," Mr Jin said. "Leadership is also capable to deal with very tough issues."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'US 'still welcome' to join China-led AIIB'. Print Edition | Subscribe