Asia’s Multilateralism

NEW YORK – The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are poised to hold their annual meetings, but the big news in global economic governance will not be made in Washington DC in the coming days. Indeed, that news was made last month, when the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy joined more than 30 other countries as founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The $50 billion AIIB, launched by China, will help meet Asia’s enormous infrastructure needs, which are well beyond the capacity of today’s institutional arrangements to finance.

One would have thought that the AIIB’s launch, and the decision of so many governments to support it, would be a cause for universal celebration. And for the IMF, the World Bank, and many others, it was. But, puzzlingly, wealthy European countries’ decision to join provoked the ire of American officials. Indeed, one unnamed American source accused the UK of “constant accommodation” of China. Covertly, the United States put pressure on countries around the world to stay away.

In fact, America’s opposition to the AIIB is inconsistent with its stated economic priorities in Asia. Sadly, it seems to be another case of America’s insecurity about its global influence trumping its idealistic rhetoric – this time possibly undermining an important opportunity to strengthen Asia’s developing economies.

China itself is a testament to the extent to which infrastructure investment can contribute to development. Last month, I visited formerly remote areas of the country that are now prosperous as a result of the connectivity – and thus the freer flow of people, goods, and ideas – that such investments have delivered.