Just a few months ago, Beijing’s plan to build a rival to the World Bank looked like something of a quixotic mission.
With the initial deadline to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) fast approaching, only a few countries had pledged their support. The United States, and its close allies, remained on the sidelines.
Then earlier this month, the U.K. broke ranks, announcing it would apply for membership in the hope of becoming the first major Western economy to join the China-led financial institution.
That opened the floodgates. France, Germany and Italy all said they would follow Britain’s lead. So did Switzerland and Austria. South Korea, one of the U.S.’s most trusted allies in Asia, also applied for membership of the AIIB, which will help finance projects in the region.
China set about building its own development bank because it was frustrated by a relative lack of influence at the World Bank (a U.S.-based institution) and the Asian Development Bank (where Japan is a major force).
Skeptical about how the bank would be run, and seeking to limit its effectiveness, the U.S. quietly encouraged allies not to participate.
But with Europe’s acquiescence, it appears that Chinese diplomats have secured a major victory. The deadline to apply for status as a founding member is Tuesday.
“The Americans would prefer that the U.S.-dominated World Bank retain its monopoly on sovereign-financed low cost development lending,” said Carl Weinberg of High Frequency Economics.
“Trade hungry Europeans, however, have looked at the map and realized that the Silk Road is a two-way route that touches key emerging markets in Africa and Asia,” he said.
Still, the AIIB won’t reshape the world economic order overnight. With planned initial capital of $50 billion, it will be around a third of the size of the World Bank.
“The AIIB will largely complement existing multilateral financial institutions; Beijing will work to ensure that the bank has high standards for governance and will not use it to pursue narrow diplomatic goals,” wrote analysts at Eurasia Group.