AIIB Analysis

The Chinese originated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was founded on January 16th, 2016.[1] The AIIB’s purpose is to mobilize the financial resources to promote connectivity, sustainable economic development, and infrastructure investment primarily in Asia.[2] Its establishment has been framed in the wider debate of the China-US strategic rivalry and whether China is seeking to overturn or uphold the US-led rules based international order.[3]

Overview

As the “initiator” of the AIIB, Chinese policy makers have represented its establishment as firstly, a complementary addition to the current economic international order, and secondly, as an opportunity to take a bigger regional infrastructure development role in Asia.[4]

Chinese President Xi Jinping has portrayed the AIIB as an “international, rules-based” institution that would “add to the strength of multilateral development banks” such as the IMF, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).[5] A neoliberal institutionalist would highlight Xi’s proposal of international cooperation and conformation with international norms as a positive that comes with multilateralism.[6] This neoliberal rhetoric is consistent with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who said the AIIB would be an “improvement on the existing financial system” with a focus on “win-win cooperation with all countries.”[7] This position has been enshrined into the Articles of Agreement of the AIIB, with Article 1 stating the bank will work “in close collaboration with other multilateral and bilateral development institutions.”[8] Likewise, the AIIB’s structure, governance, and operating procedures closely mirrors those of core MDBs.[9]

Furthermore, Xi has admitted that China “has benefitted from the [current] international development system,” and therefore promoting cooperation through the AIIB allows China to advance its interests.[10] The implication of this is that China is not acting as a dissatisfied revisionist power,[11] but rather policy makers portray China as a stakeholder in the current liberal international economic order in regard to free trade, cooperation and multilateralism.[12] Nevertheless, the AIIB has also been characterised as a regionally dominated institution, with Asian countries holding 75 percent of the total voting power.[13] Overall, AIIB president Jin Liqun describes the bank as being “born with a birthmark of China, but brought up in the international family [of MDB’s].”[14]

Secondly, Chinese policy makers represented the AIIB as a response to demand for investment in Asian infrastructure.[15] [16] Former Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said the bank’s financing capabilities would “promote regional connectivity and economic integration,” [17]  especially within the ASEAN bloc, and is proof of “China assuming more international responsibility for the development of the Asian economies.”[18] A liberal would attribute this to the theory of absolute gains, where China pursues cooperation because it still profits overall.[19] However, a realist would argue that Beijing is only cooperating because they can obtain superior relative gains.

Lastly, Xi has characterised the AIIB as a “product of China’s reform and opening up.”[20] This “all round opening up”[21] marks a new phase in Chinese economic diplomacy because it is the first international organisation that they have proposed, founded and headquartered.[22] Hence, the AIIB has illustrated China’s growing ambitions as a multilateral leader. This policy stance is part of Xi’s abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s mentality of keeping a low profile in international affairs.[23] Xi has defined China’s presence in the international arena as permanent, stating that “the door of China’s opening up will never shut.”[24]

Is it beneficial to their interests?

Chinese policy makers identified the AIIB as overwhelmingly beneficial to their interests. Firstly, given their growth in economic strength, China sought a “corresponding say in the existing international order.” [25] However, the US dominated Bretton Woods institutions and the Japanese dominated ADB had blocked such efforts,[26] leaving China with just 4.61% of votes in the World Bank, 6.16% at the IMF and 5.48% at the ADB.[27] More broadly, voting power in these organisations failed to match the global power shift towards emerging countries such as the BRICS, whose share of world GDP rose from 8 to 22 percent in the last 20 years.[28] Therefore, China has benefited by capitalising on the shared perception of underrepresentation by establishing the AIIB in which they are the dominant party.[29] China’s 26.6%[30] of the AIIB vote, which includes a de-facto veto over critical decisions, attempts to address these global imbalances. [31] Xi believes that it will assist making “the global economic governance system more just, equitable and effective.”[32] He also sees the AIIB as beneficial to China’s interests because it allows them to “undertake more international [and regional] obligations” [33] that will help foster a unique path to “great power status.” [34] A realist would agree with this assessment because the AIIB helps shift global structural power towards China. This matches the perception of policy makers, who want China to develop a “distinctive diplomatic approach befitting its role as a [rising global power]” which will allow them to become a rule-shaper in the global arena.[35]

A second benefit of the AIIB is its unofficial capacity to facilitate and fund China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.[36] Xi has has told policy makers that the “primary task” of the AIIB is to “provide financial support for infrastructure development along OBOR countries.”[37] A liberal would see this as beneficial because it deepens the scope of financial integration and cooperation within the region’s trading bloc, whilst simultaneously contributing to the current system of global governance.[38] This complements the views of a constructivist, who would see this as an opportunity for China to enhance its aspiring identity as a trustworthy and non-threatening regional partner, as well as a responsible global power.[39] However, a realist would argue that the AIIB was established for economic and strategic motivations, in which China has utilised its economic power to expand its regional geopolitical influence by bringing OBOR countries into their economic orbit.[40]

In contrast, if China is unable to successfully lead a multilateral institution in accordance with international norms such as human rights, environmental protection and political freedom, then its great-power ambitions could be threatened and its identity damaged.[41] This explains Xi’s assurance that the AIIB would adhere to the “good practices” of existing MDB’s.[42] However, realist critics of the AIIB have argued that the it will not be a truly multinational institution, but rather a vehicle for China to advance its own unilateral objectives (such as regional hegemony) primarily at the expense of the US.[43] As a result, AIIB President Jin Liqun recognised that “[trust and] credibility has to be earned.”[44]

Overall, if the AIIB’s lending standards and conditions are steered towards imposing political objectives or if they undermine norms of the rules-based order, then it may alienate the international community from cooperating in any future attempts to lead the global institutional order.[45]  However, if the AIIB can deliver its economic goals and be perceived favourably compared to other MDB’s, then it will benefit China by improving their structural power and international credibility for future multilateral leadership positions.

Possible alternatives

One alternative was to not set up the AIIB at all, and instead try to gain more power within existing multilateral institutions as a way to reflect their growing ambition.[46] Wang Yi explored this alternative by noting that China has the “third largest voting power in the IMF,” and ranks second in overall MDB voting power.[47] But the establishment of the AIIB proves that China saw this alternative as unlikely to succeed. This is largely because efforts to reform institutions like the IMF requires ratification from the US Congress – who have blocked even modest attempts to increase the voting shares of rising countries like China to reflect current economic realities.[48] As such, China’s frustration towards remaining heavily underweighted in core MDB’s, explains why they chose to establish the AIIB instead. [49]

Given that China’s domestic banks rival core MDB’s in terms of annual bilateral financing in certain sectors,[50] another alternative was to remain solely focused on promoting bilateral agreements instead of multilateral ones.[51] Xi has admitted that the AIIB’s rules of operations “are decided by its members … not by China alone,” and therefore a realist would argue that bilateral arrangements gives China greater power to shape lending operations in its own interests.[52] Nevertheless, the creation of the AIIB suggested that China was more interested in the potential of multilateral institutions.[53] A constructivist would argue that establishing an MDB allows China to boost their reputation regarding lending standards and transparency, which improves their image as a responsible global power.[54] Furthermore, regional states who are wary of China’s rise would be more accepting of financial assistance from a multilateral institution, even if China-led, than directly from China.[55] Therefore, the AIIB gives China more avenues to pursue its OBOR objectives and increase its regional power compared to what further bilateral arrangements could achieve. This also explains China’s willingness to make compromises (such as in voting power) in order to be viewed as a truly legitimate multilateral bank.

A final alternative was to instead create an institution under Beijing’s firm control, which would more directly attempt to usurp the current neoliberal international order.[56] [57] This is because although China is the founder and largest shareholder of the AIIB, it does not belong to China. The alternative organisation would promote ‘official’ Chinese characteristics such as non-interference with the borrower nation’s domestic issues,[58] and potentially oppose western neoliberal policies. This could allow for more mercantilist behaviour, as well as less regard for international norms. However, since China benefits from the current system, Wang Yi emphasised that they are “not trying to build a rival system” but rather play a greater role in the existing one.[59] As such, China shaped the AIIB like a core MDB instead of in their own bilateral image.[60] Neoliberal institutionalists would use China’s interest in cooperation and absolute gains to explain their enthusiasm in pursuing multilateral channels with a stronger adherence to international norms (compared to its bilateral activities). Establishing a complementary MDB also reduces the threat of ‘Thucydides Trap’, in which realists and hegemonic stability theorists argue that dissatisfied rising powers inevitably end up at war with the hegemon.[61]

Successes/Failures

One resounding success of the AIIB has been its expansion in members. Although rivals such as the US and Japan have not joined, the original 21 members has grown to 100.[62] This has included the unexpected addition of US allies such as the UK, France and Germany – despite opposition from Washington.[63] Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers described this “failure of the US to persuade its allies” to not join the AIIB as the “moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.”[64] A realist would argue that China has succeeded here because in a zero-sum game, China’s gain in structural power has come at the US’s loss. This explains why Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying welcomed the “honesty and credibility” these developed states brought to the institution.[65] Such an expansive membership provides global legitimacy to the multilateral nature of the institution and indicates the international community’s wide-spread acceptance of Chinese multilateral leadership both regionally and globally. A liberal would also view the extensive membership of the AIIB as a success because it integrates China further into the current system and promotes increased cooperation.

Another success of the AIIB is that it has achieved the standards that critics doubted it would. Moody’s, Fitch and S&P have all given AAA ratings to the AIIB.[66] In addition, constructivists would argue that AIIB programs to fight climate change, empower women and build sustainable infrastructure contributes to the identity of a responsible and complementary organisation.[67] Furthermore, the AIIB has subdued concerns that it is seeking to challenge the current order. For example, 17 of its first 25 projects were co-financed with other MDB’s, thereby ensuring that it is being governed by widely accepted norms and procedures.[68]  Given the relative success of the AIIB, a neoliberal would see the AIIB as a model of how China’s ambitions can be accommodated into the existing international economic order.

Lastly, from a neorealist balance-of-power viewpoint, the AIIB has been used as a successful soft-balancing mechanism which grows China’s regional power. China has addressed the US’s “pivot to Asia” by pursuing its goal of funding OBOR projects through the AIIB – where approximately one third of loans appear to be OBOR related.[69] Therefore, since the AIIB is promoting interdependency between states in the region, it increases the relative economic power of the Chinese Asian bloc as a whole, which subsequently acts as a balance against US influence.[70] Furthermore, it is estimated that the annual lending of the NDB and AIIB combined will rival the established western MDBs, thus shifting the power of multilateral lending towards the east.[71] However, a realist would argue that a failure of the AIIB thus far is that it has not undermined the supremacy of US dominated MDBs yet, and therefore the US dominated economic order remains the most powerful.[72]

Conclusion

Through the AIIB, China seems to be simultaneously challenging and reinforcing the existing order.[73] China sees the AIIB as a complementary organisation that is rebalancing unfairness in the current economic system, whilst the US worries that this move will be used to disregard the norms of global governance.[74] Policy makers see its establishment as successful so far, and it remains to be seen what type of impact the AIIB will have on the international liberal economic order in the coming years.

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[1] Xuan Gao & Peter Quayle. “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).” Oxford Public International Law (February, 2018), p.2

[2] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Articles of Agreement. Beijing, China. 2015. p.3

[3] Shahar Hameiri & Lee Jones. “The misunderstood AIIB”, The Interpreter, 17 May 2018.

[4] ‘Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony’. China Daily. January 16, 2016.

[5] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily, 16 January 2016

[6] Jeffrey Wilson. “What does China want from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?”, Perth USAsia Centre, posted 27 June 2017. Accessed 14 August 2019.

[7] Wang Yi. “China not eyeing rival system by establishing AIIB: FM”, Press release, Beijing China, 7 March 2016.

[8] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Articles of Agreement. Beijing, China, 2015, 3.

[9] Hameiri & Jones, “The misunderstood AIIB”

[10] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily, 16 January 2016

[11] Liam Gennari. “Power Transitions and International Institutions: China ‘s Creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” University of Pennsylvania, 21 April 2017

[12] Xi Jinping, “Jointly Shoulder Responsibility of our Times, Promote Global Growth: Keynote Speech Opening Session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Davos”, 17 January 2017

[13] Mike Callaghan & Paul Hubbard. “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Multilateralism on the Silk Road”, China Economic Journal, 9:2 (2016), 120

[14] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 2018 Annual Report. Beijing, China. 2018. Accessed August 11, 2019, 7.

[15] Ren Xiao. “China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB”, The Pacific Review, 29:3 (2016), 435.

[16] Asian infrastructure demand has been estimated to be 1trillion US dollars per year until 2030

[17] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily

[18] Hongying Wang. (2019), “The New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: China’s Ambiguous Approach to Global Financial Governance”, Development and Change, 50:1 (2019), 222.

[19] Rebecca Liao. “Out of the Bretton Woods: How the AIIB is Different” Foreign Affairs, 27 July 2015

[20] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily

[21] “An Overview Of The 13th Five-Year Plan” National Development and Reform Commission People’s Republic of China, 7 December 2016

[22] Jeffrey Wilson. “What does China want from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?”, Perth USAsia Centre, posted 27 June 2017. Accessed 14 August 2019.

[23] Hong Yu. “Motivation behind China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiatives and Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, Journal of Contemporary China, 26:105 (2017), 353

[24] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily

[25] Wang Yi, China not eyeing rival system by establishing AIIB: FM

[26] “The infrastructure of power.” The Economist (2016).

[27] Sun Lai Yung. “Why did China establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?” DailyFT. 26 March 2018

[28] Liao, “Out of the Bretton Woods: How the AIIB is Different”

[29] Xiao. “China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB”, 435

[30] Shahar Hameiri & Lee Jones. “The misunderstood AIIB”, The Interpreter, 17 May 2018.

[31] China has a veto over all decisions requiring a super-majority.

[32] “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony”, China Daily

[33] China Daily, ‘Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony’

[34] Wang Yi, China not eyeing rival system by establishing AIIB: FM

[35] Hong Yu. “Motivation behind China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiatives and Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, Journal of Contemporary China, 26:105 (2017), 353

[36] Power, Cormac. “Conflicting Perceptions of the AIIB.” Australian Institute of International Affairs. October 16, 2015.

[37] Lai-Ha Chan. “Soft balancing against the US ‘pivot to Asia’: China’s geostrategic rationale for establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 71:6 (2017), 568-590

[38] Cormac Power. “Conflicting Perceptions of the AIIB.” Australian Institute of International Affairs. 16 October 2015

[39] “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”, National Development and Reform Commission People’s Republic of China, 28 March 2015

[40] Yu, “Motivation behind China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiatives and Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”

[41] Yung, “Why did China establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?”

[42] Callaghan & Hubbard. “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Multilateralism on the Silk Road”

[43] Xiao, “China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB”

[44] Jin Liqun. Interview with Brookings Institution. Building Asia’s new bank: An address by Jin Liqun. Public address. Washington DC, October 21, 2015.

[45] Thane. “Regional Rivalry or Regional Development? China’s Intentions for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”

[46] Thane Bourne. “Regional Rivalry or Regional Development? China’s Intentions for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” Australian Institute of International Affairs. November 27, 2015.

[47] Wang Yi, China not eyeing rival system by establishing AIIB: FM

[48] “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: American poodle to Chinese lapdog?” The Economist, 13 March 2015

[49] Morris, “Responding to AIIB: US Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era”

[50] Morris, “Responding to AIIB: US Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era”

[51] Emine Akcadag Alagoz. “Creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a part of China’s smart power strategy.” The Pacific Review (2018), 7

[52] “Exclusive Q&A with Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Reuters, 17 October 2015

[53] China Daily, ‘Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address at AIIB inauguration ceremony’

[54] Morris, “Responding to AIIB: US Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era”, 10.

[55] Callaghan & Hubbard, “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Multilateralism on the Silk Road”

[56] Yu, “Motivation behind China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiatives and Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”

[57] China has displayed its interest in initiatives outside the IMF such as the Chiang Mai Initiative, which provides an alternative to the IMF regarding dealing with financial crises.

[58] Sun Lai, “Why did China establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?”

[59] Wang, “China not eyeing rival system by establishing AIIB: FM”

[60] Morris, “Responding to AIIB: US Leadership at the Multilateral Development Banks in a New Era”, 10.

[61] Liam Gennari. “Power Transitions and International Institutions: China ‘s Creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank” University of Pennsylvania, 21 April 2017

[62] “Members and Prospective Members of the Bank”, aiib.org, Accessed August 14, 2019.

[63] Thane, “Regional Rivalry or Regional Development? China’s Intentions for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.”

[64] Hong, “Motivation behind China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiatives and Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”

[65] Ren, “China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB”

[66] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 2018 Annual Report. Beijing, China, 2018, 10

[67] Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 2018 Annual Report, 7

[68] Hameiri & Lee, “The misunderstood AIIB”

[69] Hameiri & Lee, “The misunderstood AIIB”

[70] Lai-Ha, “Soft balancing against the US ‘pivot to Asia’: China’s geostrategic rationale for establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”

[71] Helmut. “Will the AIIB and the NDB Help Reform Multilateral Development Banking?”, 296

[72] Emine Akcadag Alagoz. “Creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a part of China’s smart power strategy.” The Pacific Review (2018), 7

[73] Hongying, “The New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: China’s Ambiguous Approach to Global Financial Governance”

[74] Cormac, “Conflicting Perceptions of the AIIB.”