WASHINGTON, DC – China’s success in establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been widely regarded as a diplomatic fiasco for the United States. After discouraging all US allies from joining the AIIB, President Barack Obama’s administration watched as Great Britain led a raft of Western European countries, followed by Australia and South Korea, into doing just that.
Worse, the Obama administration found itself in the position of trying to block Chinese efforts to create a regional financial institution after the US itself was unable to deliver on promises to give China and other major emerging economies a greater say in the governance of the International Monetary Fund. The administration had pushed European countries to accept less representation on the IMF Board and increase China’s voting share from 3.65% to 6.07%, only to prove unable to win the support of the US Congress. Once again, Obama found himself stymied abroad because of political paralysis at home.
From a geopolitical perspective, China’s AIIB initiative is a bold and successful gambit in what Ely Ratner, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, describes as “an institutional competition for global governance that has now officially begun.” China will control a majority of the voting shares in the AIIB, initially capitalized at $100 billion. Unless the Western victors of World War II can update the rules and institutions that underpinned the post-war international order, they will find themselves in a world with multiple competing regional orders and even dueling multilateral institutions.
From the point of view of developing countries in need of capital, competing banks probably look like a good thing. Developing-country governments will be only too pleased to borrow without the pesky conditions that the World Bank and existing regional development banks typically attach to their loans. And, as a region, East Asia will now get more of the roughly $8 trillion that the Asian Development Bank has estimated that the region will need to keep growing through 2020.