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World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and AIIB President Jin Liqun. Joy Asico/World Bank /Flickr
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and AIIB President Jin Liqun. Joy Asico/World Bank /Flickr
April 3, 2024

The State of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

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U.S.-China Nexus Podcast

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The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) officially opened for business in 2016 with China contributing $29.8 billion of the lending body’s initial $100 billion of the basic capital. China also hosts the bank’s headquarters in Beijing. 

In 2023, the AIIB opened its first operations office in Abu Dhabi, signaling the broad scope of the institution’s regional definition. After nearly a decade of operations and in the face of geopolitical headwinds, how is the AIIB fairing as a multilateral institution? Jing Qian takes us through the driving force behind the bank, its leadership and decision-making structure and standards, as well as what makes the AIIB distinct from its Bretton Woods counterparts.    

Eleanor M. Albert: Today we are joined by Jing Qian. Jing is a lecturer and postgraduate research associate in the department of politics at Princeton University, where he also earned his PhD in Politics in May 2023. In Fall 2024, he will join the New York University, Shanghai, as an assistant professor of political science. His broad research interests include on the political economy of international taxation, multinational corporations, foreign direct investment, foreign aid, multilateral development banks, and quantitative methods.

Jing, welcome to the show. It's a pleasure to have you.

Jing Qian: Thank you for having me.

Eleanor M. Albert: Today we're going to be talking about the AIIB and how it fits into China's broader economic global strategy. To help us contextualize all of this, it'd be helpful if you could share from your understanding what the impetus is or driving force behind the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?

Jing Qian: When it comes to the driving force behind the founding of the AIIB. [it] really has different layers. The most ostensible goal is often portrayed as filling the massive infrastructure investment gap, not only in Asia, but also in the entire world.

There was one estimate from a group in the World Bank that records, dare I say, over $2 trillion U.S. dollar infrastructure investment bank globally. Across the different regions, the East Asia, Pacific region is the one that requires the most, percentage wise, the largest infrastructure investment has not been fulfilled yet by the existing either commercial, or multilateral lenders. I think for Asia alone, it requires somewhat around $1 trillion only for infrastructure investment. That includes a lot of countries, including China, but also other countries for example in Asia, in South Asia, et cetera.

That kind of a massive infrastructure investment gap that existing multilateral institutions like the World Bank, like the Asian Development Bank or the other regional development banks that have not been able to deliver and to provide is one of the important driving force behind the initiative of China's AIIB.

The second layer is more a representation issue for a lot of especially emerging markets or these countries more on the recipient side than in the World Bank, in the Asian Development Bank, et cetera.

Reforms in the World Bank, in these Bretton Woods institutions, have often been delayed, partly due to U.S. domestic politics, the difficulty to secure the congressional approval are part of the higher-level geopolitical tensions. With that said, we actually see a lot of developing countries, China at most, but also for example, for countries like India or Turkey and many others, they have grown so rapidly economically but did not get their corresponding voting power or the decision-making power in institutions like the World Bank or the regional development banks. For these countries, they really want to find a way to boost their saying in this business of multilateral development finance.

The creation of the AIIB actually provides these countries a very important opportunity to, instead of doing this very piecemeal and often hard, often delayed reform within institutions, to actually start something new. They can get a say from the very beginning, for example, by negotiating and designing the infrastructure, the organization, and also most importantly, the decision-making process in this brand-new multilateral institution.

In addition to these two different layers, there's also been a larger, broader but maybe less direct reason people have always been thinking about when it comes to the founding of the AIIB or more generally the approach taken by China when it comes to international economic government. That has a lot of have to do with the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.

The initial idea of the AIIB was put forward I think just a year afterwards in 2009, although not that official kind of settings, I remember it was by a Chinese think tank in the Boao Forum in 2009. But that specific timing is very interesting because not only for policy makers or think tanks, but a lot of research in recent years is also pointing to this specific moment in history, that the 2008 global financial crisis actually triggered a lot of countries questioning or even [having] dissatisfaction with the so long-established, American-led, international economic system.

Especially for countries that took a very large hit by the financial crisis, they all started thinking about whether the current U.S. led international economic system is the best for their own interest or is there any way they can try to make changes either from within, or from outside.

That also fit broadly to the overall founding of the AIIB and also to other important initiatives that was driven by the emerging markets trying to find possibly a better economic system for their own interest, which might be different from the long-existing U.S. led one.

I think these three layers:  the infrastructure investment gap, the representation problem in Bretton Woods institutions, and just the aftermath of the global financial crisis, they are jointly some of the important driving forces behind the establishment of the AIIB.

Eleanor M. Albert: That's fascinating. What’s also interesting is that in your thinking about all of this, the role of China is actually not that big of a player. Of course, it was the big driving force behind all of this and the secretariat for the AIIB is in China, but it doesn't seem that, from your vantage point, it’s necessarily a purely China idea.  

I want to fast-forward us because it's been around for almost a decade now. It is of course operating and funding projects. I wondered if you could give us a snapshot of the current state of membership, how much funding it has, what's its leadership structure like to give us a little bit of a look inside, how does the AIIB operate. And how does it operate in partnership or in contrast with some of the existing multilateral lending institutions?

Jing Qian: The AIIB was formally founded in 2016—although the idea, as I mentioned earlier can go all the way back to 2009. It was initiated by China and joined by in total 57 founding members. Nowadays they have more than a hundred members. I think it has 109 members, including 14 prospective members. So those are the ones that still await their domestic approval to finalize the ratification process.

Among these members, we actually have a lot not from the Asia Pacific region, including some very high profile Western European countries like the UK, France, and Germany, but also for example, countries in South America like Brazil, Argentina, or in the Middle East and also in Africa. Membership wise, it's really tricky to say that this is simply an Asian institution because it has such a broad membership coverage across the world.

When it comes to its operation, AIIB started with a slightly smaller capital stock when compared to the World Bank or the ADB. The total capital for the AIIB was at the level of $100 billion. So that compared with, for example, the Asian Development Bank or the World Bank, it's kind of on the same level, but it's lower than their capital stock.

The same pattern is also true when it comes to the operations. For example, the projects that AIIB committed and provided loans to other countries. Initially, in the very early years, from 2016 all the way to maybe 2019, the AIIB operation really started [on] a very small scale. Every year provided about 10 to 15 projects and the total amount started as maybe $2 billion or $3 billion every year.

But in more recent years [that] has really grown very quickly. For example, in the year of 2022 and 2023 has provided somewhere between 40 to 60 projects to different member countries. The total lending every year is now at the level of $8 billion, even to $10 billion. I think from that end, for both the membership and the project operations, it really starts from a small level but grows very quickly in more recent years.

Speaking of its relationship with other institutions, you're totally right that AIIB actually works very closely with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. In its very early years, they also worked with other institutions including the European Bank for Reconstruction Development, the EBRD.

But in more recent years, we really see it closely working with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, not only when it comes to jointly financing projects for countries in the world. I think almost half of the AIIB projects so far as have some kind of component of co-financing with these existing multilateral institutions.

They also work in other dimensions. For example, the people that originally helped AIIB to design its organization, its structure or even the most important articles agreement…. I’m sure you already know the key person, Natalie Lichtenstein, who was the single most important person to design all the
aspects of the AIIB,  she was also a person who spent decades in the World Bank and knows very well how these institutions work.

On top of that, I want to point out one recent kind of cooperation, which I think is interesting between the AIIB and the World Bank. I think last year, around summertime, June or July, the AIIB actually provided a credit to the World Bank’s IBRD organ [the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development], I think the amount of $1 billion. The idea is that the World Bank really wants to expand its operation, but also it sees it doesn’t have enough capital to do so. And the AIIB, on the other hand, has a lot of capital, but it doesn’t have the means to use all of that to fund its own operations. So the deal is for the two institutions to work together and basically you can think that in the idea that AIIB is financing the World Bank for its own operations. This is something quite new and didn’t get mentioned a lot by the media, by observers, but I do think this is a very interesting development when you think about the relationship between the AIIB and other operations. They’re not just doing projects together. They actually work together on other dimensions.

Eleanor M. Albert: That is a really fascinating development. I think in some ways it’s a classic business decision, right? If one place has capacity but not the capital, what types of partnerships do you then create to be able to fill that void and continue to charge forward? I wanted to ask you a bit about the leadership structure? How do decisions get made? Is it membership based, but based on your voting share of how much money you’re providing to the institution?

Jing Qian: When it comes to the leadership of the AIIB, I always still say it’s very similar to what we were seeing, for example, in the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. One of the reasons that a lot of people often try to portray AIIB as simply or solely China’s institution is for the kind of most public figure of the bank, which is the President, Jin Liqun, he is from China and he is the president since its establishment. He, I think, in recent years was elected to serve a second term. So the president of AIIB, he definitely has very deep and close relations with China. He spent, I think, almost two decades working the Chinese Ministry of Finance.      

But I also want to mention that he, again, also has deep experience in other institutions, including the World Bank and ADB. That was I think less often mentioned. He was once the vice president of the Asian Development Bank and he served as the alternative director for China in the World Bank. I can definitely see why he’s the ideal person to start the AIIB because of his very deep knowledge, not only with the domestic system of China, but also very rich experience. He really understands how these multilateral development banks work and how to transplant his experiences and knowledge from these institutions to this newly established AIIB.

Then there are five or six vice presidents of AIIB. They work with the president to make the majority of the decisions. When it comes to the profiles of these vice presidents, it’s really different. We do have important Asian countries, big players like India, Russia, and also Indonesia. But also they have vice presidents from European countries. I think it’s from the UK and from Germany. And if I remember correctly, the chief economist is from Sweden.

When it comes to these higher level officials of AIIB, you really see this mix of Asian emerging markets—they really helped found [the] AIIB, and together with these developed Western European countries, they wanted to join and to help the AIIB to better position and design itself and also to follow more closely the existing standard as established by the other institutions. 

’When it comes to the voting and decision-making power process and distribution of voting power, I also certainly see why people are often trying to portray it as a Chinese institution, because first and foremost, China has the largest voting share in the AIIB, more than 26% I believe.

That essentially gives China veto power over major organization issues. For example, the allocation of capital and this risk construction over  important aspects of the bank. That is similar to the U.S. stance in the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. So both have veto power, but only over important organizational aspects. I think neither China or the United States has veto power over [the] more daily operations of the IMF, World Bank, or the AIIB in this case.

The difference is also what other countries have a larger say in AIIB. It's very important to mention that in the AIIB, the countries next to China, it's India and Russia, and also Turkey, these larger economies in the broad Asian region, they are the ones that have the bigger say in the AIIB, which is different even, for example, compared with other regional development banks like Asian Development Bank or the African Development Bank where you still have the United States or Japan, they are the ones have the larger say.

I personally think this is a welcome change because it really gives these countries that rely on this development finance and they are often on the recipient end of these projects to have an augmented voting power, decision-making power in the operation of these multilateral development banks. This is different from the other institutions where you have very sharp division that is the advanced economies, they're the ones making decisions, but these emerging markets or developing countries, they are the ones that are receiving these projects and rely on these projects for their own development goals.

Eleanor M. Albert: That's a really good contrast and it certainly highlights the sentiment that I think Beijing would like to send, that this is a bank that is meeting regional needs and that the decision-making process is being done more by the developing countries who are in the most need. Now whether the impacts ultimately in terms of what the actual projects then bring, are successful or not, is of course very much contingent on how you define success and who the players are who benefiting from these projects.

In light of that, I wanted to ask about the types of projects that the AIIB has focused on, and whether there are prioritized sectors or industries that have benefited the most in this broader infrastructure endeavor. Are there certain countries that have benefited more than others from AIIB funding?

Jing Qian: When it comes to the project profile, not surprisingly, the AIIB is focused on infrastructure.
For example, the sectoral distribution of all the projects that have been approved so far, which is more than 250 projects since 2016, among these projects, I would say roughly half of them are these more traditional defined infrastructure sectors that would including things like energy, transportation and so on. That's the biggest chunk of the AIIB projects.

But also, in more recent years, there also been a lot of interesting and important developments when it comes to how to actually allocate projects when it comes to sectoral distribution.  In the past two or three years, AIIB, like other institutions, they have devoted a lot of finance to help countries to recover from the COVID[-19] pandemic.

AIIB has its own COVID recovery fund, which actually constitutes a very large share of its more recent years' operations. So it’s kind of a designated lending window that lends to countries that are in need and mainly for the purposes either through the channel of finance, or public health to help countries that got a very large hit by COVID[-19] to really recover quickly in recent years.

Another also very important thing for the AIIB, which is also shown from other institutions is it's focus on climate finance or the need to combat climate change. The AIIB has already increased a lot its operation to finance climate-related projects and has made it very clear that by 2030s or 2040s, they really want to increase the share of climate-related project to a very large share, to the level around 40-50%. In 2020, the AIIB made it clear that they wanted to stop financing coal plant-related projects also for the intention to better help the world to combat climate change.

When it comes to countries that receive the most projects, it mimics very closely the distribution of voting power. I think the single country that has received the most projects from AIIB is India. It has received more than $10 billion from the AIIB—considering it has only been established for eight, nine years and only loaned over $50 billion globally.

The second country is actually Turkey, which has also received a lot of projects, more than 20, from the AIIB. Turkey is a very interesting case because we didn't really think that's a major player in the Asian region because it's kind of dual profile being an Asian or European country. But I think one reason Turkey is really benefiting a lot from AIIB is because it was really underrepresented in the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. So AIIB is an important channel or platform for Turkey to realize a lot of its own development needs.

More broadly, a lot of AIIB projects are focused on the Asia-Pacific region, but they're also lending globally to countries like Brazil, Rwanda, Argentina, et cetera.

But there is a stated focus on financing the Asian region. I think there is indeed a 15% cap on finance to non-regional members. I'm not sure whether that's something going to be staying or gradually changing in the future, but at least for the moment and for the near future, the focus will still be prioritizing Asian members.

Eleanor M. Albert: So interesting. India being the largest recipient of AIIB projects and funding negates the politicized narrative around this being a solely Chinese institution, because Beijing and New Delhi are not best friends.

But in talking about these projects, I was struck that I don't know much about the project tendering process. Is this more of a game of member countries applying for projects? Is it possible that countries that have had a lot of economic growth have more need but also more capacity to apply for projects to be funded? And what does that look like in the AIIB sense?

Jing Qian: When it comes to the project allocation process, I do think it's very much mimicked the structure or the process of other institutions, but I think the difference is [that] there is I think it's stated limit of about 15% to non-regional members. That really boosts a lot of finance to the Asia-Pacific region.

Another reason for the focus for regional members, and especially these big players like India and Turkey, is that when it comes to project allocation in multilateral development banks, including AIIB, but also for the World Bank and the ADB, it is also tied with their contribution to these institutions.

So there is, I've seen, not a very direct, but a rough correlation between how much capital you contribute and what's your cap of borrowing from this institution. With that said, India and Turkey, with their very large contribution to the AIIB naturally [are] granted a larger demand for finance from the AIIB.

But when we look at the specific country-wise project al location, I think it's a two-way process. I would only imagine it's similar in other places where in the development bank itself, like AIIB, they have their regional or even country offices that work very closely with all the members. And these member countries, they have people that work with different multilateral development banks, and they are in very frequent and often communication about the potential needs for projects and the specific composition of project finance, et cetera. That provides the initial blueprint of what kind of project they might propose, or they might get from different development banks.

Then after this, they will go through a more formal process to design the specifics of the projects when it comes to size and the various environmental and social safeguards and the duration, et cetera. That will also be worked closely with the member states. Once that is done, they will be sent to the decision-making process by the board of directors and governors for negotiation for final approval.

That process is not something new to me, that’s kind of how these institutions work. That is also a lot of the knowledge and experience, these initial founders, they borrowed and transplanted from the other institutions. But I think the difference is really being its different composition of capital subscription and voting power that gives a different focus and emphasis to countries that were not able to borrow as much from other institutions. Also it's a very clear regional and infrastructure focus, which also was reflected in its project allocation.

Eleanor M. Albert: Absolutely. I want to ask about how the bank has been received and how the projects have been received in project completion and success. There was so much resistance, particularly from the U.S. about the establishment of the bank. There was a lot of pressure from DC on its allies to not join, and that pressure campaign was not super successful. So eight, nine years in, how was the bank fairing? Is it seen as a success story? What's the verdict so far on its performance?

Jing Qian: There has been not a lot, but there has been some kind of criticism and pushback for the AIIB even nowadays. But when I look at these reviews or analysis, it's surprising to see they don't really talk about the actual operations, but they criticize mainly on the basis that it's an institution that is dominated by China, whether that's true or not… I think that's the original sin of the AIIB that stays even nowadays.

That kind of pushback was largely amplified by the very recent incidents of the resigning of the Canadian Global Communication Director of the AIIB last year, and also by the decision to freeze cooperation between the Canadian government and AIIB also very quickly after that incident.

But again, I think this   provides a very important opportunity to further review and investigate how the AIIB has been doing so far. But I don't see any specific anecdotes or examples to really support these very broad allegations.

But I want to also mention there is one specific case that's related to projects that also brings about some tensions. That was a project in Indonesia, which is called the Mandalika Project. The idea was that [the] Indonesian government wanted to build a second “Bali” Island as a tourist hotspot. In the process they needed a lot of financing to take over this proposal. One of the financing entities is the AIIB. During the implementation of this series of projects, there has been a lot of tension, especially when it comes to displacement of local people.

That caused a lot of tough focus from human rights NGOs and even from a lot of international organizations. But I think the interesting part of this incident  is that the specific component of this broader project that leads to forced displacement concerns, they're not the AIIB project that the institution was financing, but somehow everyone, even on the ground or from observers, they really want to make the case that this entire disaster and problem is because of AIIB financing.

Things like this also highlight just how much pressure and spotlight the AIIB is still under nowadays eight, nine years in[to] the operation because people's stereotype of the institution that was founded initially by China—including all these emerging markets, but with the absence of the United States. People really want to think about all the negative parts and they will try to attribute [these to] the AIIB. But again, we really need more concrete examples and evidence to make a more educated judgment of how the AIIB is doing so far and whether they really deserve all the criticism and pushback that's received.

Eleanor M. Albert: I was also interested in seeing if there was any evidence in terms of Chinese funding around the world. The biggest thing that people generally criticize is that in the allocation of funding per project or with a loan, it comes with certain conditions. Who completes the loan? Who's doing the actual work? I was wondering if there was any evidence of outsized role of Chinese construction companies being some of the actual manufacturers of some of these projects. Now, that's not to say that they shouldn't be sometimes getting them because China has some capacity in this area. But I think this is one of the gray areas where there might be speculation about whether this is a behind closed doors political process for the actual operation and carrying out an implementation of a project. I was curious [about] your thoughts on this front.

Jing Qian: That's a really good point. So before jumping to the contractors, I want to follow up on our earlier discussion about looking at how these projects are distributed, allocated across the world.

Again, India, the one with the largest number of projects, which is surprising to a lot of people. There was a very recent study by scholars from Swarthmore and Villanova, they actually found that when you look at the broader distribution of the AIIB projects, it's really not the case that they're going to countries that are closest to China. If anything, what they found is they're going to countries that are more distant from China, especially economically, but also to the extent politically. That's very different from what scholars have found in the case of the World Bank or the IMF, that all these projects or the loans are going to the U.S. close allies or friends.

That might or might not mean that China is not doing the same kind of political favor story in the AIIB, but scholars, they're also trying to argue that this is the strategy for China to attract these distant countries by providing them favor through the AIIB. You can also say this, but I think this is a very interesting pattern.

When it comes to the contractors and suppliers of these projects, I think it's really different from the more bilateral operations by China, including all these development finance projects, foreign aid by China that were under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative. A lot of these kinds of criticism are rooted in these bilateral operations.

This has been a lot of focus towards Chinese contractors or companies to take out these projects. But when it comes to the AIIB, it's really different because it's really a multilateral institution with more than a hundred members. With all these decision-makers from all over the world. All these project-related decisions or these standards, they really follow the highest standard that has been established by other institutions, including transparent procurement process and which company should be awarded with the project. With that, it's really hard to even imagine how to argue that it's the very same story that China can do whatever it wants and give all these projects to its own, especially state-owned companies. And I think that pattern  has also shown from the data, if you look at some of the annual reports by the AIIB, they give a broader distribution of where these projects go.

If I remember correctly, Indian companies or India is the single country that received the most supplier contracts for all these projects. That's not surprising given India is the country that received most projects. This might be surprising to some people because it's not China that get the most contracts. It shows that the broader pattern of these contracts also mimics the distribution of the number and the value of projects. So if there is anything, I would only imagine most of these contracts go to the local companies, to countries that receive the project.

Eleanor M. Albert: Fascinating. It's really important to shed light and create some distance between where China is involved. The fact that China is there doesn't necessarily mean it's all China's way all the time.  

I have two concluding questions. One is about a more newsy development. The AIIB  recently opened its first overseas operational office, and that was decided to be in Abu Dhabi. And I just did a quick look at what their share of voting power is. And it's not that significant. I think it's in the small 1%, but in September 2023, it decides to open an overseas office. Why Abu Dhabi? Why in the UAE?

Jing Qian: This is indeed a very interesting development. I think that the reason is that when it comes to the AIIB, it's idea of the region is very fluid. So it's including of course the Eastern Asian community that people were trying to promote focus on, but also goes very west to middle and West Asia, even to the Middle East. That actually plays out to be a very interesting and important location if the AIIB, in the future, wants to expand its operation to the Middle East or even to Africa.

Also another reason is that if China really wants to, and AIIB as I mentioned, really wants to put this focus on the environment and climate finance in the future. Believe it or not, I think the Middle East is now the hotspot for that initiative. There have been a lot of big initiatives. They want to transform themselves from the old days, oil-dependent economies to more environment, climate-friendly economies. That's something that I believe the AIIB and the Middle East region, they can really work together to when it comes to not only projects, but also other large initiatives to help the AIIB to fulfill its commitment to climate finance in the future.

But again, this is very new phenomenon, and I don't know that much about this imperative. But, I would say it represents the more global and the pan-Asian focus of the AIIB in the future so that they can expand their operation in the broader regions.

Eleanor M. Albert: That makes a lot of sense to apply a geographic lens to it because in many ways the Gulf can be part of Asia broadly. And so having Beijing and then having Abu Dhabi creates your boundaries for regional operations.

I also think that this discussion about the initiative of wanting to be on the forefront of environmental and climate initiatives in some ways makes me think a bit about China's own commitment and rebranding of the Belt and Road Initiative.

So in that sense, how does the AIIB fit into China's larger objectives? We've spent most of the conversation really dissecting the AIIB itself and not so much China's perspective on its relationship to the institution. I wondered if we could flip it and now look at China and what the AIIB means for it and its larger economic statecraft.

Jing Qian: That's a very important question. When thinking about the relationship between the AIIB and China's broader initiatives, I often try to more think in a way of it's the most important initiative for China when it comes to multilateral initiatives or in the multilateralism framework. A lot of other initiatives we have been observing are more on the regional or bilateral level, but the AIIB, I think it's really the first and the most important, truly global and the multilateral endeavor that China has taken.

That puts the AIIB itself in a very interesting position when we think about [the] relationship with China's own economic statecraft initiative. On the one hand, I believe, within the framework, China wants to have some influence in this institution and it wants to have a bigger say, which it has already.

But on the other hand, it also really wants to brand the AIIB as a truly multilateral institution and not just a multilateral institution, but one that is on the highest standard when compared with other institutions. That means that it cannot do that much. You really have to follow all the rules that have already [been] established and decided with all these other member countries and with all these Western European countries.

That’s very important positioning of the AIIB in the China’s foreign policy framework. They want to have its own kind of multilateral initiative but by so doing, it also limited itself within this framework. It cannot do things as freely if they were, for example, in the Belt and Road Initiative or in a more bilateral initiative. That's the most important thing I want to point out when thinking about the relationship between AIIB and the China's economic statecraft.

Eleanor M. Albert: It's very clear that China wants the AIIB to be the model of what an institution created to provide greater diversity of voice and representation for the developing world. I think as such, it doesn't want to taint it in any way because the dividends that it can gain from being a fair arbiter and the creator of a forum that is more equal and just—these are all the keywords of China in trying to talk about multilateralism. I want to leave the floor open if there's anything else that you think we should include.

Jing Qian: I really want to conclude this with something I've been thinking for a while—the absence of the United States and Japan in the AIIB. I was thinking about this question in two different aspects.

One is that during the early years in 2015, there had been a lot of proposals, encouragement from the policy world and from academia, that the United States should actually join the AIIB. For example, they can have a bigger say in this institution; they can help to shape the rules and the structure of this China-initiated institution. But I do totally see why since it's not very likely because of all the congressional approval that has to go through.

But the question I've been thinking more recently is what would [have] happen[ed] if the United States and Japan had joined the AIIB, even as founding members. So not only that they can help to shape the rules, but they would also gain a lot of voting powers in these institutions and they would actually dilute   lot of influence China nowadays enjoys in this institution. They might actually work together with UK, Germany to have this kind of Bretton Woods block within the AIIB. And if that were the case, I would only imagine the power dynamics within AIIB today would be very different.

Again, I understand why that's not the case, but I think it's very interesting to think about, in the future, when it comes to U.S. reactions to other multilateral initiatives that China wants to initiate and how to think about the relationship, the question of just pushing back or trying to shape from inside.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the position of Georgetown University.


The U.S.-China Nexus is created, produced, and edited by me, Eleanor M. Albert. Our music is from Universal Production Music. Special thanks to Shimeng Tong, Tuoya Wulan, and Amy Vander Vliet. For more initiative programming, videos, and links to events, visit our website at And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.