Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank offers vital pportunities

Updated: 2015-03-25 07:34

By Zhou Bajun(HK Edition)

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On March 12, the United Kingdom and on March 17, France, Germany and Italy said they would join the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The international community views these four countries as all important allies of the United States. Their decision was strongly criticized by the Obama administration. Washington sees the AIIB as China's vehicle for creating a rival to the US-led World Bank. Many Americans view it as part of Beijing's strategy to reshape the global economic and financial order. Because of this, US officials have tried to persuade their allies to shun the new bank.

However, sovereign states usually place their own national interests above other considerations when conducting important foreign affairs. US allies acknowledge that although the AIIB might increase China's influence, its aim - to support the financing of infrastructure - is beneficial to the global economy and emerging markets. Therefore, the AIIB could prove invaluable if it is developed properly in a multilateral context.

Countries cooperating to establish the AIIB accept that the focal point of the world economy has been shifting eastwards. The AIIB, initiated by China and other Asian nations, is an example of this trend. European and other countries have to consider how to benefit from - rather than miss - this great opportunity. Some people in the US also feel this way. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 19 that Robert Zoellick, former World Bank president and former US trade representative and deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, advised the Obama administration to engage with China over the AIIB in a similar way they have been cooperating over anti-corruption, transparency and governance issues.

Here in Hong Kong, political wrangling over the 2017 Chief Executive (CE) election has preoccupied too many citizens. Many are ignorant of important developments outside Hong Kong such as the AIIB. This is unfortunate as the AIIB could have a significant impact on Hong Kong.

The headquarters of the BRICS bank is to be located in Shanghai. Fully supported by the central government, Shanghai is building a new international financial center. It will definitely benefit considerably from the AIIB. Facing competition from Shanghai, Hong Kong should make more effort to improve its financial services.

As a giant economy, China has the ability to cultivate two international financial centers in the 21st century. But, if Hong Kong continues to be plagued by endless political bickering, Shanghai will surpass it.

To date, Beijing has pledged $50 billion to launch the AIIB; $40 billion for setting up the Silk Road infrastructure fund; $10 billion for establishing the New Development Bank (also dubbed the BRICS Bank) and $41 billion for a related BRICS currency contingency fund. Each of the proposed banks or funds is different. Hong Kong should actively participate in any of them - along with the mainland.

Currently, financial institutions in the SAR are paying a great deal of attention to the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock market trading interconnection mechanism. This will be operating in several months. The authorities and financial sector should frame a long-term plan to engage Hong Kong with developing the AIIB and also the BRICS Bank.

It was a bold decision for Britain to apply to join the AIIB in conflict with the US. London's position as one of two world financial centers (the other is New York) depends on its first-class services. Only by successfully delivering financial expertise to the AIIB can London boost its unique status as a financial center. So Prime Minister David Cameron's cabinet has made a farsighted decision in Britain's best interests.

Hong Kong has no chance of hosting the AIIB. But, the city can provide financial expertise to the AIIB. As a newly developing financial institution, the AIIB needs help from professionals. Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of China. Many professionals in Hong Kong are fluent speakers of both Chinese and English. The SAR can provide professional and technical support to the AIIB. In this way Hong Kong people can contribute to the country and to the city's economy.

I believe the SAR government and Hong Kong people have to shift their emphasis from political issues to economic development. Whether the government bill for the election of the CE by universal suffrage in 2017 is approved by the Legislative Council, or not, political disputes should be abandoned as soon as possible.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank offers vital pportunities

(HK Edition 03/25/2015 page10)