Discuss Japan > Back Number > No.27 > Japan’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
— A Proposal by the Economists for Peace and Security (EPS)
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No.27 ,Diplomacy  Jun 04, 2015

Japan’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
— A Proposal by the Economists for Peace and Security (EPS)

We, the Economists for Peace and Security (EPS)[2], value the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) spearheaded by China as an initiative in which developing nations take on a central role in developing their own infrastructure; one with potential that international society should welcome. This is because it would be favorable for China to utilize its growing economic and financial power within a multinational framework to establish the international public good of Asia’s infrastructure. On the other hand, there are concerns that China may try to exploit the AIIB as a foreign policy tool to expand its economic and political influence in Asia, or that it may try to challenge the order of existing international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In regards to Japan’s participation in the AIIB, we propose that discussions and decisions should be made after assessing China’s intentions. In short, if China limits the number of self-centered policies, finds value in focusing on providing for the international public good, and takes specific action towards that goal, Japan should consider joining in the future. Japan’s participation would strengthen governance, raise the standards and quality of infrastructure projects, and increase the possibility of furthering the harmony between China and the international community. However, if China positions the AIIB as a China-centered international financial institution, there is little hope of Japan’s participation bringing about transparency in governance or higher standards/quality in infrastructure projects, and ultimately Japan’s participation would have little impact. In that case, Japan should work from outside the AIIB to facilitate coordination between existing institutions (such as the World Bank and the ADB) and the AIIB to help the latter become a better international financial institution.

[1]This proposal is based on a total of four study meetings held between November 2014 and May 2015. The study meetings included an opportunity to exchange opinions with Asakawa Masatsugu, director-general of the International Bureau at the Ministry of Finance. In addition, Kawai conducted interviews in Beijing with Chinese finance officials (the director of the International Economic Relations Department and the director of the International Financial Cooperation Department) and the AIIB’s Multilateral Interim Secretariat. The research forming the basis of this proposal was supported by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. However, the Foundation holds no responsibility for the content of this proposal. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the guest lecturers, related persons, and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

[2] The individuals who worked to create this proposal are as follows: Arakawa Hiroto, Iwata Masayuki, Iwami Toru, Kawai Masahiro, Kosaka Hiroyuki, Kojima Akira, Suzuki Yoshio, Hayabusa Nagaharu, Makino Yoshiji, Miyazaki Isamu, Yamaki Hiroyuki, and Yamada Atsushi. Their views were collated by Kawai Masahiro.

Proposal by the Economists for Peace and Security (EPS)

Japan’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): Japan should consider participation after assessing China’s intentions
May 22, 2015

“Japan will, in collaboration with the ADB, provide Asia with innovative infrastructure financing at a scale of 110 billion dollars—13 trillion yen equivalent—in total over five years.” Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said at the Banquet of the 21st International Conference on the Future of Asia, May 21, 2015.  PHOTO from the website of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet

“Japan will, in collaboration with the ADB, provide Asia with innovative infrastructure financing at a scale of 110 billion dollars—13 trillion yen equivalent—in total over five years.” Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said at the Banquet of the 21st International Conference on the Future of Asia, May 21, 2015.
PHOTO from the website of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet

Fifty-seven countries are set to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a financial institution scheduled to be created under the leadership of China, as prospective founding members. While Japan and the United States have postponed making a decision on whether to become prospective members, several countries from outside Asia have joined, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries. After signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding the establishment of the AIIB, these countries are now entering discussions regarding the creation of the Articles of Agreement. They hope to sign the Articles of Agreement by the end of June and establish the AIIB by the end of 2015.

The bank is said to ultimately have 100 billion dollars (approx. 12 trillion yen) in capital, with the distribution of the quotas and voting rights to be basically determined based on the size of each country’s economy. China will be the largest contributor, the headquarters will be in Beijing, and the first president is expected to be from China.

The move towards establishing the AIIB is welcomed by developing countries in Asia that are in need of enormous investments in infrastructure. However, the United States views the AIIB as China’s challenge to the international financial order, the core of which consists of the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Japan, which has sent successive presidents to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is also expressing uncertainty in light of the movements to establish the AIIB.

Meanwhile, China is aiming to establish a BRICS New Development Bank and a Contingent Reserve Arrangement together with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa. It is also accelerating efforts to make the IMF adopt the Yuan as one of the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) currencies. After the most recent global financial crisis, emerging countries have been expanding their economic prominence. Global economic and financial issues cannot be handled by the seven major advanced economies (G7) alone, and the twenty major countries and regions (G20), which include emerging nations, are starting to play an important role as a forum for coordinating international policy. In response to this situation, the international financial system is also shifting from a system led by the United States, G7 and other advanced nations to a multilateral one in which emerging countries also play a specified role. The establishment of the AIIB can be regarded as a symbol of this change.

Why is China establishing the AIIB?

Four reasons can be given as to why China moved to create the AIIB. First, there is an enormous demand in Asia for infrastructure, but existing institutions such as the World Bank and the ADB cannot meet this demand on their own. The ADB estimates that demand in Asia for infrastructure between 2010 and 2020 will be 8.3 trillion dollars in total (996 trillion yen), or 750 billion dollars (approx. 90 trillion yen) a year, but the amount of actual infrastructure investment will be much smaller. The introduction of the AIIB would mean more funds for infrastructure, which could be invested from the vantage point of developing nations.

Second, while China and other emerging nations have expanded their economic power, they are not given a sufficient say within the existing international financial institutions. These institutions are U.S.- and Europe-led frameworks, and attempts by emerging nations to increase their contribution of capital and gain a larger say have been thwarted. For example, the IMF reform, in which members agreed in 2010 to expand the speaking rights of emerging nations, has not yet been realized due to congressional disapproval in the United States, which has a veto right. Thus, there are limitations in trying to implement reforms that value the viewpoint of developing countries within existing institutions. In these institutions, infrastructure projects and lending standards tend to be determined by the intentions of developed countries. It also takes a long time to make decisions, leading many developing countries to feel that the system does not necessarily fit their needs and circumstances.

Third, China, which has become the world’s second largest economy, desires to lead Asia’s economic growth through infrastructure development, the country’s strong point. While Western nations lead the IMF and the World Bank, and Japan leads the ADB with the backing of the United States, China does not stand at the head of any international financial institution, despite its growing economic and financial power. Through the AIIB, China hopes to take the lead in Asia’s infrastructure development and economic growth.

Fourth, China is experiencing a slowdown in domestic growth, and seeks a means of survival throughout Asia in terms of infrastructure businesses, the export of excess products, and the securing of resources. It also aims to expand its economic and political influence within Asia. It is trying to strengthen China’s external economic environment, and establish a multinational institution in addition to pursuing bilateral cooperation. One example of this is China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy, or its Silk Road scheme, which involves developing a transportation infrastructure network on both land and sea from China to Europe in cooperation with neighboring countries. To make this policy work, China intends to have the Silk Road Fund and the AIIB play complementary roles.

To summarize, the AIIB is an attempt by China within a multinational framework to lead Asia’s economic growth in a way that reflects its growing economic and political power. China’s economy will continue to grow steadily, equaling the United States around 2030 and most likely surpassing it later on. China will have greater influence on the world stage. International society, led by Japan and the United States, must face this rise of China and seek ways that actively utilize China’s economic power and motivation. From a constructive viewpoint, the AIIB is about developing nations taking the initiative in developing their own infrastructure, and it has potential that international society should welcome. This is because it would be favorable if China utilized its growing economic and financial power within a multinational framework to establish the international public good of Asia’s infrastructure. From a long-term perspective, we should try to incorporate China’s power within the international order by encouraging it to take responsible actions that comply with international standards and rules.

The establishment of the AIIB, an institution for developed nations by developed nations, must be welcomed as a sign of self-help efforts by developing nations to improve their own situation. The idea of developing countries contributing the majority of funds themselves, issuing bonds by themselves, and developing their own infrastructure is not a bad thing. On the other hand, it can be argued that in leading the AIIB, China could possibly use the bank as a foreign policy tool. There are concerns that China may try to exploit the AIIB as a means to expand its economic and political influence in Asia (particularly central and south Asia), or that it may try to challenge the order of existing international financial institutions such as the World Bank and ADB through the establishment of the AIIB.

Incorporating the AIIB within the international order

Japan and the United States, which decided not to take part in the negotiations concerning the Articles of Association, both recognize that “it is important for the AIIB to base itself on internationally established standards in terms of securing fair governance, considerations for the environmental and social impact, the sustainability of debt, and other aspects.” This opinion demonstrates exactly what can be done to incorporate the AIIB within the existing international financial order. It is best that Japan and the United States become involved with the AIIB to ensure that its governance and lending policy/standards are closer to international standards.

First of all, in regards to the AIIB’s governance, when we use a set of assumptions to estimate the current quotas, which basically determine voting power, China’s quota is overwhelmingly large at 30%, followed by countries such as India (8.3%) and Russia (6.4%). There is no country that can match China (refer to the 2013 data shown in the chart). China’s quota is extremely large compared to those of major countries in other large international financial institutions (other than the Inter-American Development Bank). For example, the U.S. quota in the IMF is 17%, and both Japan and the United States each have a quota of around 16% in the ADB. In contrast, the AIIB must essentially be seen as an international institution subject to the whims of China.

Note: Calculations based on 2013 and 2014 GDP (GDP converted to USD via the market exchange rate and the PPP-based GDP averaged with a weight of 60% and 40%, respectively). The numbers differ slightly when changing the ratio of the market rate-based GDP and the PPP-based GDP. The totals of Asian countries and non-Asian countries are assumed to be 75% and 25%, respectively. China does not include Hong Kong (Hong Kong’s current quota: 0.8%, quota assuming Japan’s participation: 0.6%). Russia and Turkey are included as Asian countries. Egypt is included as a non-Asian country. In the case of Japan’s participation, Taiwan’s participation is also assumed. In the case of Japan and the United States’ participation, the two countries are assumed to be treated the same as the founding members (if they joined after the AIIB is established, their respective quotas would likely be much smaller than the quotas listed in the chart).
Source: GDP data figures were obtained from the current IMF World Economic Outlook database.

However, if Japan had joined the group of prospective AIIB founding members, the quota distribution would have been different. Japan’s quota would have been 11%, with China’s falling to 25%. Therefore, while it would be difficult to match China single-handedly, the combined quotas of Japan and Europe would be 35%, exceeding that of China. In other words, by participating in the AIIB, Japan could have checked China’s actions to a certain extent through its cooperation with Europe.[3] However if Japan were to participate after the AIIB was established, it is unclear whether Japan would be able to secure an 11% quota. Looking at examples of other international financial institutions, Japan’s quota would be much smaller than originally intended, preventing it from securing a sufficient amount of voting power.

In regards to the transparency of the AIIB’s organizational management and operations, the World Bank and ADB, for example, have a standing Board of Directors at their headquarters that makes decisions on individual loan proposals. Although the AIIB will have a Board of Directors, it will not be a full-time organization based at the bank’s headquarters, and it is viewed as a body that will help to bolster the president’s power. This arrangement will reduce the running costs, but raises concerns that loan proposals and lending standards will be affected by China’s intentions. To enhance the transparency of the AIIB’s decision-making process and effectively monitor its operations and management, it is important to grant strong authority (regarding decisions on loan proposals deemed to be of special importance, etc.) to a standing Board of Directors and to station it at the bank’s headquarters.

Secondly, the AIIB’s environmental and social standards for infrastructure projects are unclear, and there are concerns that uncontrolled development may lead to environmental deterioration in developing countries that receive loans, or that the human rights of residents of the area in question may be threatened. Some are inclined to think that because the AIIB consists of mostly developing countries, it does not require high standards similar to those of the World Bank and the ADB. However, at a time when developing countries face the pressing issue of developing their economies in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive, it would be a problem if the AIIB provided infrastructure loans subject to extremely low environmental and social standards. If that happens, the funds cannot be colored according to their sources, and as a result the standards maintained by the World Bank and ADB up to now may be destroyed. The AIIB should encourage the long-term and stable economic growth of developing countries by supporting exemplary infrastructure development projects. In short, the AIIB should be required to have environmental and social standards equal to those of the World Bank and the ADB.

On the other hand, it is true that some developing countries feel the lending standards of the World Bank and ADB are too strict. Indeed, there are some cases in which it is difficult for developing countries to fulfill the strict environmental and social standards of the World Bank and ADB due to the limitations in their own systems, their abilities, and their funding. As a result, strict standards may stifle projects that would be beneficial for developing countries. The AIIB could help to fill this gap, but in that case the loans need to be combined with technical assistance to help countries improve their system and abilities and enable them to meet higher standards. The AIIB should take measures such as setting up a trust fund within the institution that provides technical assistance.

It is also essential to facilitate cooperation between the AIIB and existing international financial institutions. By promoting co-financing in which the World Bank/ADB and the AIIB provide funds simultaneously (in particular joint financing schemes where each is responsible for a specified share of a loan given to a project), the AIIB could help maintain international standards. The World Bank and the ADB would also benefit from being able to save funds and work to further develop high-quality project pipelines.

Third, developing countries would increase their foreign debt as a result of receiving infrastructure project loans from international financial institutions. The problem is that if developing countries receive loans from the AIIB that are beyond what they are capable of repaying, this may cause delays in repayments to other financial institutions such as the World Bank and ADB. The IMF conducts cross-sectional analysis of the debt sustainability of countries. The AIIB should utilize this analysis of the IMF and implement infrastructure projects in a sustainable manner.

[3] On the other hand, even if Japan joined and the combined quotas of Japan and Europe (plus Australia) exceeded that of China, it is unclear whether Japan and Europe would march in step. Indeed, the UK, lured by economic factors, was the first to leave the solidarity of G7 nations and express its intention of joining AIIB. In addition, China could join forces with Russia, Iran, Central Asian countries, and other developing nations to create a group with a quota larger than that of Japan, Europe, and Australia. This in turn could give rise to an unfavorable structure that pitted the developed nations of Japan, Europe and Australia against the developing nations in Asia. Thus, although Japan could check China’s actions to a certain degree if it joined, it may be difficult to establish a fair and transparent system of governance or to ask for high lending standards.

Japan’s response

Japan has not participated in the Articles of Agreement negotiations. However, if it had, it could have raised the aforementioned concerns and issues, and decided whether the AIIB had the potential to be an international financial institution with reliable environmental and social standards. Based on the progress of these negotiations, it could have taken the option of determining in June whether or not to sign the final AIIB Articles of Agreement.[4] Because Japan decided not to take part in the negotiations, the details of the AIIB will depend on negotiations held between fifty-seven other countries.

In light of the current situation, what decisions could Japan make in the future? As for the United States, there is little possibility that its largely hardline, anti-China congress will approve funding for the AIIB, and it cannot be expected to participate any time soon. However, the AIIB is an international financial institution in Asia, and it is only natural that Japan, as a major economy in the region, should take its own course and be actively involved in creating rules for the region’s development of infrastructure and contribute to economic growth. In addition, for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China is a major power that cannot be countered by one nation alone. Japan’s participation would be beneficial for ASEAN nations because it will affect the relative influence of China and create balance. In other words, working together with these Asian countries will help enhance the international community’s trust in Japan, while the creation of the AIIB without Japan could possibly weaken the nation’s prominence. Participation in the AIIB is also an important step towards preventing Japanese companies from being excluded from infrastructure projects in Asia. Taking these reasons into consideration, it is clear that Japan’s participation in the AIIB would be meaningful.

Meanwhile, it is also important to consider participation after assessing China’s intentions, or what China aims to achieve through the AIIB. It is necessary to see if a governance structure is in place so that if China were to implement self-centered policies, Japan would be able to block these actions or relatively weaken China’s influence as a result of its participation in the AIIB.

Japan should consider the prospects, both good and bad, of participating in the AIIB based on the outcome of negotiations between the fifty-seven countries. The important points to take into account are as follows:

  • ・What vision does the AIIB have for Asia? Are its ideals and vision consistent with the basic views of Japan? In particular, will China contribute to the prosperity and security of Asia and international society by providing for the international public good through the AIIB, or will it implement self-centered economic and political policies related to the geopolitical expansion of its economic area?
  • ・How even will the quota distribution be among the participating countries of the AIIB? Will one nation, such as China, have an excessively strong say? If Japan participated, would it be able to obtain a sufficiently strong say capable of influencing the governance and safeguard system of the institution?
  • ・Will the Board of Directors be a standing organization? Will it be placed in the AIIB headquarters in Beijing? Will it have the highest decision-making authority, or at least have the authority to examine and approve/disapprove individual infrastructure loan proposals (and other issues that it deems important)?
  • ・How high will the AIIB’s environmental and social standards be? If these standards do not meet international standards, how does it plan to address environmental and social risks? For example, does it have a system that simultaneously provides technical assistance to enhance developing countries’ systems and abilities?
  • ・How prepared is the AIIB to implement co-financing (in particular joint financing) with existing international development institutions such as the World Bank and ADB?

To summarize, if China limits the number of self-centered policies, finds value in focusing on providing for the international public good, and takes specific action towards that goal, Japan should consider joining in the future. Japan’s participation would strengthen governance, raise the standards and quality of infrastructure projects, and increase the possibility of furthering the harmony between China and the international community. However, if China were to position and exploit the AIIB as a China-centered international financial institution, there would be little hope of Japan’s participation bringing about transparency in governance or higher standards/quality in infrastructure projects, and ultimately Japan’s participation would have little impact.[5] In that case, Japan should work from outside the AIIB to facilitate coordination between existing institutions (such as the World Bank and the ADB) and the AIIB to help the latter become a better international financial institution.

[4] Participating in the negotiations towards the Articles of Agreement required signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This not a legally binding document, although the Articles of Agreement is. Therefore, signing an MOU would not create an obligation to sign the final Articles of Agreement.

[5] Some suggest that Japan could sign the Articles of Agreement to join AIIB, and withdraw later on when it confirmed that China intends to use the AIIB to realize its self-centered policies instead of providing for the international public good. However, this is not an advisable course of action. The Articles of Agreement is an international agreement, and the contribution of funds requires the approval of the Diet. Once Japan joined the AIIB, it would be ill-advised to leave the institution so quickly. Thus, upon joining the institution, Japan should be fully certain that it intends to remain on a semi-permanent basis. In this respect, the AIIB is different from the MOU.

Reform of existing international institutions

The international financial order shaped largely by Europe and the United States after the Second World War does not fully meet the needs of developing and emerging nations in Asia and other regions. Calls for the reform of existing international financial institutions are being made from various aspects.

Existing international institutions need to expand their loan capabilities and streamline their operations. In fact, the ADB set out a number of items related to these issues at its annual meeting in May 2015. The first point is to increase capital by combining the majority of its ordinary capital resources that are lent to middle-income countries and its Asian Development Fund that provides grants and low-interest loans to low-income countries, and to expand its loan limit to 20 billion dollars, or 1.5 times the current level, by 2017. The second point is to reduce the loan examination period from the current level of nearly two years to approximately six months through measures such as increasing the authority of local offices. The third point is to increase the percentage of loans in education and healthcare. The fourth and final point is to deepen the level of cooperation with private financial institutions in order to be better prepared to jointly advise on Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects or increase joint financing. These are welcome moves. An increase in capital should also be considered in the future.

At the same time, existing international institutions must adjust the speaking rights of emerging nations in accordance with their expanding economic power. The failure to do so will call the validity of these institutions into question. The first thing that must be done is for the United States to accelerate domestic approval of the IMF reforms. The ADB must also start to reconsider its quota and voting rights.

Japan has a great deal of responsibility in developing infrastructure in Asia. If China takes actions that value providing for the international public good, and if there are signs that the AIIB will be a good international financial institution, Japan should join the AIIB. If not, Japan should work from the outside to encourage the AIIB to become a better financial institution. It should also call upon China to present a long-term vision for sharing its ideals and its vision for prosperity and security throughout all of Asia, and encourage it to realize those ideals and visions. Regardless of whether or not it joins the AIIB, Japan is ultimately expected to fulfill its role of being closely involved with the creation of an economic order in Asia, contributing to the construction of a high-quality infrastructure through the World Bank and the ADB, and encouraging China to take actions that comply with the rules.

 

Translated from a proposal paper “Nihon no Ajia Infura Toshiginko eno Sanka: Chugoku no Ito wo Mikiwamete kentoseyo (Japan’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): Japan should consider participation after assessing China’s intentions A Proposal by the Economists for Peace and Security (EPS)),” Proposal by Economists for Peace and Security (EPS), May 22, 2015. [May 2015]

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