AIIB meeting to boost regional cooperation amid tension


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AIIB meeting to boost regional cooperation amid tension


Source: Global Times    Published: 2020-07-27

As leaders, officials and experts meet virtually on Tuesday for a meeting of the 102-member Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), they will likely focus on boosting regional and global cooperation, and highlighting the urgency to stand up to a rising tide of anti-globalization amid profound challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese experts said on Monday. The meeting also comes as the US increasingly seeks to stir up tension in Asia and beyond.

In a speech scheduled for the annual meeting of the China-initiated multilateral investment bank, Chinese President Xi Jinping will also likely reiterate China's unwavering support for inclusive global cooperation and encapsulate China's long-standing guiding principle for foreign policy that is based on mutual respect and benefit, in stark contrast to the US' ideologically driven and inward-looking approach defined by its recent relentless attacks on China, experts noted.

Critical meeting

The AIIB will convene its fifth annual meeting on Tuesday afternoon Beijing time via video conferencing rather than at its newly opened headquarters in the Chinese capital - another sobering reminder of the vast disruptions caused by COVID-19. The two-day meeting will focus on the importance of partnerships to connect markets and on navigating the challenges ahead, the AIIB said in a press release shared with the Global Times on Monday.

Topping the agenda is a highly expected speech by President Xi to the opening session on Tuesday afternoon, which would mark the first address by the Chinese president at a multilateral financial institution since the outbreak of COVID-19 - underscoring the significance of the meeting at such a critical juncture of unprecedented regional and global challenges.

"With the global economy facing huge downward pressure and trade protectionism, extremism and nationalism in countries such as the US, the fifth anniversary of the founding of the AIIB is especially significant," Liu Ying, research fellow from the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

Liu noted that the bank has become a symbol of China's concrete contribution to the economic development in Asia and around the globe, and the bank's success over the past years also showed how China's approach based on win-win cooperation and connectivity has been well received by countries around the world.

Since operations began in January 2016, membership of the AIIB has grown from its original 57 to 102, according to the AIIB. In contrary to claims by some foreign officials and media outlets that the bank is a Chinese-led institution that pushes China's foreign policy agenda, the bank has a very diverse membership, including countries from almost all continents as well as US allies such as the UK. The bank also worked with existing global lenders, including the World Bank.

The AIIB has also extended loans totaling $19.6 billion to 87 projects in 24 economies. Just in 2020 alone, the bank approved more than 20 loans to various countries, including Vietnam and India, with the vast majority of them aimed at helping these countries respond to COVID-19 as part of a $10 billion pledge of financial support to cope with the pandemic.

Still, some foreign media outlets continue to smear the AIIB's investments. After the bank approved a $100 million loan to Vietnam in mid-July, Japan-based Nikkei Asian Review described the move as an "olive branch" extended by China to encourage Hanoi to relax its stance in the South China Sea. Notably, Japan, which initiated the Asia Development Bank, is not a member of the AIIB.

Asked about such criticism, the AIIB on Monday stressed its open and nonpolitical nature as a multilateral institution.

"Our governance structure conforms to the best international practice - ensuring the institution is open, nonpolitical , and professionally run with high standards of integrity, with all members having the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Bank," the AIIB said in a statement sent to the Global Times.

"No matter to what extent some countries with ill-intentions try to smear the AIIB, the bank's sole purpose is to boost connectivity through investments in infrastructure construction," Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday. "Such smearing should not and will not stop the AIIB's focus."

Chen said that there are many pressing issues for the AIIB and its members to address at this year's annual meeting, including how to rebuild connectivity disrupted by COVID-19 and how to ensure the recovery process for the global economy.  

China vs US

In his speech, President Xi will offer a comprehensive approach from China's stance on how the Asian community as well as the global community should move forward to jointly tackle challenges posed by COVID-19, Chinese analysts said.

"[President Xi] will likely stress China's core principles in building a community with a shared destiny in the region, seeking closeness, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness with neighboring countries and pushing for regional economic cooperation," Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times on Monday, adding that the Chinese president will also likely call on countries to effectively manage their differences and refrain from escalating tensions.

While the Chinese president's remarks will likely focus on internal cooperation in the face of a global challenge, as he stressed during his previous speeches at global occasions including the G20 summit in March, his speech will be interpreted with the context of rising tensions between China and the US over a wide range of issues from the South China Sea to Hong Kong and Huawei, analysts noted.  

Wu said that long-standing principles of China's foreign policy that President Xi is expected to outline in his speech will stand in stark contrast to that of the US' approach.

"With the AIIB, China is promoting economic development in developing countries in Asia through building of infrastructure. That is vastly different from the US' approach to rope in some countries to confront China through geopolitical and security means," he said.

While diplomatic disputes will garner much media attention at the AIIB meeting, there are also a number of things to watch for, including possible new measures to help members cope with the fallout of COVID-19, analysts noted.

During the meeting, an election will also be held for the AIIB's next president, with experts predicting incumbent president Jin Liqun, who has been nominated by China for a second-term, will again be elected to head to bank for another five years.