AIIB And China’s Diplomatic Image

1200-1500 words

No need to write the intro, just focus on the following outline, some adjustment can be made

AIIB’s diplomatic role:

– Undermining American Plans to Establish a Political and Commercial containment around China

– Bonding with traditional U.S allies, influence US dominance role, shake US ‘hegemony’

– Prestige – Projecting Chinese National Power in the Realm of Finance

– China’s international political power bank.

What does AIIB has to do with China’s reformist role?

– striving for a breakthrough in changing the existing international financial order.

– promote traditional MDB’s to reform the development of finance and lending conditions.

Prestige –  a more assertive leadership in the financial realm.

– sign of China’s rising economic and financial power

n Deng Xiaoping’s most famous remarks: “it is glorious to be rich.”

Synergy BRI

– Decrease the dependence of Chinese trade tie with the US market – diversification of trade partnerships.

– Deeper pan-Eurasian interconnection – enable the convergence of geopolitics, economic, financial, and energy interests – strategic rebalancing US

– collaboration with the Russian – counterbalance the US

AIIB could bankroll profitable BRI projects that ultimately respond to Beijing’s geopolitical interests.

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China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB

Xiao Ren

To cite this article: Xiao Ren (2016) China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB, The Pacific Review, 29:3, 435-442, DOI: 10.1080/09512748.2016.1154678

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China as an institution-builder: the case of the AIIB

Ren Xiao

Institute of International Studies (IIS), Fudan University, Shanghai, China

ABSTRACT As China is entering into the center stage of the world arena, it has become more proactive in regional and global institution-building. Globally, it has been actively involved in the G20 affairs and will be hosting the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou. Regionally, it came up with a major initiative for a new institution, namely, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This article aims to analyze the new institution’s formation, goals and institutional arrangements as well as its implications.

KEYWORDS China; AIIB; infrastructure; institution-building

Envisaging a new institution

A few background notes are important to understand the initiation of the Asian Infra- structure Investment Bank (AIIB). First, in November 2012, the new Chinese leadership came into office and the transition was finally completed in March 2013. Soon after the transition, Xi Jinping, China’s new president, demonstrated a proactive posture and quickly emerged as a powerful leader who had a vision for the country. Largely prompted by this vision, a number of important measures were swiftly adopted, includ- ing those in foreign affairs. The widely acclaimed doctrine during the previous Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao periods, i.e. ‘Tao guang yang hui’, basically meaning keeping a low profile, no longer stood. Under Xi, it appeared that things that should be done will be done. The important question to deliberate was what should be done.

Already in 2010, China was widely believed to have overtaken Japan and become the second largest economy in the world in gross domestic product (GDP) terms. By the end of 2013, it had a huge foreign-exchange reserve of $3.82 trillion. By that time, China had obviously possessed impressive economic capabilities and resources. The emerging question was how China should constructively and effectively use its newly acquired economic power and resources, especially against the backdrop of the on-going debate on whether it was wise for China to continuously purchase US Treasury bonds. In this regard, there had been lots of complains about the ineffectiveness and risk of doing so.

In Asia, of which China is a crucial part, the circumstances logically became a key element for inventing a new institution. In the eyes of Beijing, achieving development is the common priority for many Asian countries, and the infrastructure’s lagging behind


© 2016 Taylor & Francis

THE PACIFIC REVIEW, 2016 VOL. 29, NO. 3, 435�442



posed as a serious bottleneck region-wide. For China, one of the key development les- sons it learned was exactly setting infrastructure construction as the priority and founda- tion for national economic growth. Throughout the reform period, China had been quite successful and clearly had useful experiences to share with, and funds to provide for, its Asian neighbors. China’s degree of success in this area far exceeded many other Asian nations. The efficiency of China’s political and administrative systems contributed greatly to the successful infrastructure building. This experience made China to realize that infrastructure would be equally important for other Asian countries. China’s esti- mate was reinforced by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report of 2009, which states that ‘between 2010 and 2020, Asia will need to invest $8 trillion in national infrastructure and an additional $290 billion in regional infrastructure projects in transport and energy.’1 In contrast, the ADB has less than $80 billion in capital, while the World Bank’s member states have subscribed to $223 billion of subscribed capital. In practice, the lat- ter can only loan some $50 billion per year to different parts of the world, including Asia (Steinbock 2015). Tang Siew Mun, a senior researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, joins this estimate by arguing for ‘Asia’s thirst for infrastructure funding’ (Tang 2015). This demand was also reaffirmed by the ADB and World Bank. According to the ADB President Takehiko Nakao, ADB’s position about AIIB is first that it is understandable because there is a very big financing need in the region. As for the World Bank, its President Jim Yong Kim stated in July 2014 that estimates for infrastruc- ture needs in developing countries are at least US$1 trillion annually, far beyond the cur- rent capacity of his institution and private investment to handle. Thus, the assessment of demand appeared as a widely held consensus. Seen from this perspective, it was possi- ble for what was demanded and what could be supplied in Asia to match each other.

Third, there also existed an indirectly related reality. For years, China had wished for a greater say in the existing international institutions like World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and ADB, but reforms to better reflect China’s increased economic power and status had encountered resistance and had been painfully slow. The 2010 reform package to reform the Bretton Woods institutions, for example, by offering the emerging economies a little more voting share had been stymied by the US Congress because of its suspicion and inaction. The modest reform package remained in the same place and could not move ahead for five years. Even if the Obama Administration wanted the package to be passed, it was blocked at the US Congress until December 18, 2015. This at one point forced the IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, to warn strongly and deliberately that she would not be surprised if one day the IMF moved to Beijing! While the vested interest was hindering the long overdue reforms, China’s push for a regional institution within which it would be dominant or at least have consider- able impact was a reflection of Beijing’s frustration over the Western, especially Ameri- can, dominance of the existing international multilateral bodies.

A fourth factor that was the driving force behind the AIIB initiative had something to do with the US Asia rebalance policy, which was seen as an unfriendly move toward and a challenge for Beijing (Ren 2015). In China, a policy proposal was made that China should avoid face-to-face confrontation with the United States in the Western Pacific and instead go ‘westward’ (Wang 2013) by looking to the vast Eurasian heartland and investing more attention and resources there. This new ‘Eurasian shift’ was an interest- ing and significant development of China’s geopolitical thinking. According to Wang Jisi, a leading foreign policy adviser, ‘China’s current geopolitical and geo-economic sta- tus can be defined as neither Eastern nor Western, neither Northern nor Southern;

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rather, it encompasses elements of East, West, North, and South. Having entered a spe- cial phase in its social development, and equipped with unique civilizational and cultural traditions, China can play an extraordinary role in human history, serving as both a bridge to the past and a herald of the future’ (Wang 2015: 57). As it turned out, the idea entered into China’s foreign policy making process and essentially became part of the output that bears an umbrella name ‘One Belt One Road.’ The ‘Eurasian moment’ of China’s foreign affairs has now come (Yang 2015).

Driven by these realities and based on various analyses, the China Center for Interna- tional Economic Exchange, a think tank led by former Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan, submit- ted a report to the leadership in early 2013 for a financing institution for infrastructure in Asia. This and the related policy discussions soon caught the leadership’s eyeballs and became readily accepted. In October and November 2013, President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang respectively paid a visit to South-East Asia and they proposed an AIIB to their hosting nations. The initiative was essentially announced during Chinese leaders’ visits to South-East Asia. The proposed AIIB was envisaged to promote interconnectivity and economic integration in the region and would cooperate with existing multilateral development banks. Following this announcement, bilateral and multilateral discussions and consultations commenced on the core principles and key elements for establishing the bank. In October 2014, representatives from 21 countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create the AIIB and Beijing emerged as the obvious venue to host the bank headquarters. Mr Jin Liqun of China was appointed as the Secretary Gen- eral of the Multilateral Interim Secretariat. The Secretariat was tasked to perform techni- cal preparations for establishing the AIIB and to provide technical support and services for the Chief Negotiators’ Meetings.2

Although the initiative was seen as a potential rival in Washington and, to a lesser degree, Tokyo as well, to the existing Western- and Japanese-dominated institutions such as the Washington-based World Bank and Manila-based ADB, the preparations for AIIB were able to move forward. At the very beginning, it would have initial capital of US$50 billion and would be designed to meet Asia’s burgeoning demand for transporta- tion, dams, ports and other facilities. In June 2014, China proposed doubling the regis- tered capital of the bank from $50 billion to $100 billion, with half from China and the rest from other founding members (Steinbock 2015).

The idea quickly aroused much interest among the Asian countries. Barely a year later, 21 countries including China, India and Singapore signed a MOU in Beijing in October 2014 and the AIIB was officially unveiled. The AIIB was supposed to be an international financial institution to fund infrastructure projects in Asia. It was believed to hopefully benefit developing Asian countries that lack infrastructure funds and it would adopt the best practices of other multilateral development banks. From the beginning, while South Korea’ endorsement and entry was not seen as too much a problem, there was a question regarding Japan. Given Japan’s economic weight and political status in Asia, Beijing undoubtedly would like Tokyo to become part of the new bank. Consultations were conducted. While March 31, 2015 had been set as the deadline for founding membership, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea exchanged views on AIIB-related issues of mutual interest during the three-way foreign ministers’ meeting held that month in Seoul. Japan’s suspi- cion and hesitation lingered on while attentively looking at Washington. Out of complex considerations, Japan and the USA decided not to join, at least for the moment.




When an emerging power grows but is not embraced or even welcomed by the established powers and the global institutions they dominate, the former trying to cre- ate new institutions becomes something inevitable. Now the inevitable thing occurred in the real world. For some time already, the USA had been urging China to make more contribution and even exercise more leadership in the world. Back in 2005, then US Dep- uty Secretary of State Robert Zoellick delivered a famous speech calling for China to be a ‘responsible stakeholder’ (Zoellick 2005). Ten years later, the day when President Xi Jinp- ing of China arrived in America for a state visit, US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew published his Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal which states, ‘In short, it is important for China to embrace responsibility commensurate with its size.’ (Lew 2015) Indeed, China decides to put into more resources to help to meet Asia’s enormous demand for more roads, bridges and other projects that the new AIIB is intended to underwrite. Washing- ton stated that it welcomes China’s ascent to great-power status, so long as China respects international norms and plays a proper part in the multilateral system. China suspects that, in practice, America tries to hem it in whenever it does anything on the world stage. In the case of launching the AIIB, America seemed to confirm that it adopted a policy of containment that was wrong in principle and failed in practice (The Economist 2015).

China’s role: shaping and shaped

China’s being open and inclusive regarding the invention of AIIB has helped with a rela- tively smooth process of preparing and launching the bank. The question of veto power inevitably emerged and this ignited some concern about how China would handle the issue. On March 25, 2015, when he was interviewed, China’s chief negotiator for AIIB, Vice Finance Minister Shi Yaobin stated that as the number of member states was increasing, each member’s share percentage would decrease accordingly. The thesis for China’s seeking or forgoing the one-vote power was a false one.3 The next day, the For- eign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the question by stating that the issue of China seeking or forgoing the one-vote veto power did not exist.4 The two statements together implied that China might not be seeking such kind of decisive power. To look at the issue more deeply, China had an incentive to remain open and transparent, particularly for the early stage to make the bank happen. Having more nations from both in and outside Asia on board should help to keep things more honest and credible. When China first proposed it, some countries had questions about the future bank’s governance, staffing, lending standards and so forth. But Beijing has done a lot to clarify its proposal since then, and that has made potential member states more comfortable, though some questions remained but would not be preventing the bank from being created.

This was a process of mutually shaping and reshaping each other. First, it was China that took the initiative for an AIIB, which was initially supposed to be a multilateral bank composed of countries in Asia. Early on, Beijing did not expect the developed countries of Europe would actively join the bank. That dramatically changed on March 12, 2015 when the United Kingdom announced that it desired to become a founding member state. Germany, France and Italy quickly followed to suit the next few days. This appeared to be a happy surprise and good news for Beijing since the China-proposed AIIB won wider-spread support and favor, even among the US allies, who defied Wash- ington’s unwise opposition to the creation of an AIIB. Unavoidably, more members

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would dilute China’s capital input as percentage of subscribed whole capital and there- fore decrease China’s power in the new bank. When more and more countries, including the developed European countries signed up, China’s share decreased. Nonetheless, China welcomed the addition of member states which meant wider support for the new institution. Second, the issue of veto power was thought about and sorted out. If Beijing might have considered seeking the one-vote veto power as the USA did in the IMF and still keeps the power up until today, it gave up this later. Third, should there be any citi- zenship requirement of the bank’s president? From the beginning it was clear that the first president of the AIIB would likely be a Chinese, Mr Jin Liqun, since China would be the biggest shareholder no matter what percentage its contribution eventually would be. But different from the ADB where the president has always been Japanese, the citi- zenship of the AIIB president may change and later presidents could be foreigners. All these indicate that while it was China who took the initiative, the outside actors played a reasonably significant role in the shaping of AIIB.

True it was China who made a bold move and initiated a potentially influential new institution, and China itself was relatively inexperienced in creating or managing a new institution. What was most important after all was to win wide-ranged support for it and successfully launch it. As for China’s influence, since the bank would be headquartered in Beijing, and China would be the largest shareholder, the host nation would inevitably have some important � although may not be dominant � influence over the new bank. And unlike the World Bank where the president has always been an American, China did not insist that the president of AIIB has to be a Chinese. This showed China was ade- quately open and reasonable, not trying to dominate the bank but rather trying to work with other countries. Eventually, according to the agreement reached among the found- ing member states, China’s share decreased to 30.34%, much lower than previously speculated 50%, and 26.06% of voting power. Yun Sun correctly points out, ‘In this sense, the evolution of AIIB may provide a model of how China’s behavior can be shaped by the collective efforts of the international community and how China’s ambi- tions can be accommodated without overturning the existing international order’ (Bob et al. 2015: 28).

Throughout the process, China needed to respond to the concerns from other powers, including the United States, regarding the new bank’s standards. Such a response was assumed to perplex China because the USA had been urging China to exercise leadership compatible with its growing strength by providing more resources for development and other global goals. On the surface, Washington worried about the bank’s basing in Beijing, but having a non-resident Board of Directors. This was seen as meaning that for all practical purposes, genuine international input, much less supervi- sion, would be next to impossible. However, this could not hold. No matter whether America’s was a real concern or not, the suspicion could not serve as a reason to kill, before its birth, such a bank for infrastructure development in Asia. This effort failed dis- gracefully and it was best embodied in the following fact. When Britain became the first European power to apply for membership, an American official harrumphed about its trend toward ‘constant accommodation’ of China. That admonition did not stop Germany, France and Italy declaring later that they too wanted to be founding members (The Economist 2015).

Geo-economics and geopolitics are constantly working and having impact on one another. It is unsurprising that a reform, let alone an initiative for a new institution, encountered resistance from the vested interest. Even a modest move to increase the




resources of the IMF by giving some more voting shares to China and other emerging markets has been stymied for years in US Congress. Thus, Congress bears considerable blame for refusing to pass legislation to shift voting power more fairly among IMF mem- ber states, including China. China’s move to create the new development bank is part of the ‘price’ being paid for that obstruction.5 In any case, it was clear that China would go forward with its initiative with or without USA signing up. Fundamentally, development financing helps China to win friends and influence in the region and beyond.

Functions and potentials

The AIIB’s launch has resulted from China’s entering a new phase of development and further embracement of the world. The size of its economy is the second largest and China today is the key player in world economics and politics. This new stage is epito- mized by three changes in the economic area. First, changes in trade and investment relations are taking place from previously absorbing foreign direct investment and exporting manufactured goods to investing more overseas today. Chinese companies these days are becoming much more actively involved in overseas merger and purchase as well as the desired upward movement in the value chain. The second trend is China’s private capital and domestic industries are being prompted by the state capital and they are attempting to ‘go out’ further together. The third trend appears that through- out the implementation of the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, the coastal industries, sup- ported by the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund, are increasingly shifting to China’s middle and western regions and looking for markets in Central Asia and the Middle East (Pan and Liu 2015).

Under these circumstances, the AIIB was born as an outcome of utilizing China’s available resources and integrating foreign strategy with domestic development. When a nation has reached a certain level and starts to pursue legitimate international status, it is not just an issue of helping to enhance others’ development, or seeking discursive power internationally, the real world status comes from the capability to influence inter- national thinking and future direction (Pan and Liu 2015). The AIIB is seen as such a step in that direction.

The bank, which draws funds from members according to the size of their econo- mies, would start with $100 billion in capital. China has also earmarked $40 billion for its Silk Road infrastructure fund, and another $20 billion for the BRICS New Development Bank, whose other members include Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa (see Liu Ming’s article in this issue). All these ventures are supposed to stimulate development and growth in poorer countries in a dire need for development finance.6

It is not true that China is simply altruistic. At present, the overall Chinese economy is undergoing a restructuring process. As its economy slows down and evolves, the coun- try needs to find new markets for its capital goods. Better transport links will make nearby countries more attractive as suppliers to Chinese manufacturers and as consum- ers of Chinese-made goods. The new financial institutions also enable China to diversify foreign-exchange reserves still predominantly invested in US Treasury bonds. China will also extend its international influence by supporting the various projects through financial aid.

The AIIB is believed to bring about real benefits and welfare to the Asian region and its peoples. For China, on the one hand, this will help to transfer the overcapacity of pro- duction, allow China’s huge foreign-exchange reserve to benefit more countries through

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investment, and push for the internationalization of the RMB, the Chinese currency. These would help with China’s domestic economic reform and restructuring. On the other hand, China, through ‘One Belt One Road’, will provide support in terms of capital, technology and service to other countries in Asia, and bolster economic and social development of other countries in the world (Wang Jian 2015).

Previously, China joined almost all the international institutions or covenants over the past three decades-plus, and joined hands with other states in the region or other major developing countries to form an institution. The AIIB is the first institution that China ini- tiated to create and will likely exert a major influence. It is a new institution that meets the demands for national development of many nations in Asia and elsewhere and the initiative has been welcomed. The new bank is not aimed at replace any existing institu- tions such as the World Bank or ADB, but rather supplement them to narrow the gap between demand and supply. As a result, the bank has quickly taken shape. This was a process for it to be initiated and shaped in terms of institutional growth. The fact that so many countries desired to join the new AIIB surprised everybody. Beijing has also worked to accommodate the new situation and outside wishes or suggestions, and this has been an interactive process. It provides an excellent case how an institution grows in Asia. The new institution is supposed to provide capital to countries in need to sup- port a variety of projects in the years ahead. Throughout the process, China will be able to share its experience in infrastructure construction � a highlight of its own develop- ment, adopt high standards for institutional design, operation and loan provision. Based on its preparatory process and successful launch, the AIIB has displayed a potential to become a promising institution in Asia.

Obviously, only when countries in the region work together, can common develop- ment be achieved jointly. The AIIB as a new institution has met the demand for common development and it has the chief mission of supporting infrastructure development throughout Asia. This involves relevant issues of institutional design, staffing and opera- tional mechanisms in order to fulfill its mandate. Meanwhile, it can have other things to accomplish or potentials to utilize as well.


The AIIB is a Chinese initiative that resulted from China’s increasingly taking the world’s center stage. It is unprecedented that since the end of World War II it was the ‘rest’ rather than the West that initiated an international institution as such. As power is diffus- ing, China as a great nation and the world’s second largest economy deserves more respect and higher status in the global institutions than before. When this had been blocked, the emerging power believed that it had the legitimate right to do otherwise, particularly when its move would fill the void and provide public goods for other coun- tries. The AIIB satisfies the region’s demand for greater funding for infrastructure devel- opment, and China has been joined by as many as 56 countries as founding members. Throughout the process of AIIB’s formation, China’s efforts helped to shape the new institution while China’s own role was shaped likewise, at least in part, by the outside players. The emergence of AIIB is a profound development in Asian economics and poli- tics, probably for the world also. The AIIB and the BRICS New Development Bank, together with the existing institutions, will help to shape a new global institutional land- scape and therefore a reformed and hopefully more balanced and reasonable interna- tional order.





1. ‘Infrastructure for a Seamless Asia,’ Asian Development Bank Report, August 31, 2009, p. 4, http://adb. org/sites/default/files/pub/2009/

2. 3. ‘Yatouhang, xunqiu genghao de biaozhun tixi (The AIIB seeking a better standard system)’, Renmin

ribao (People’s Daily), March 26, 2015, p. 10. 4. 5. 6.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes on contributor

Ren Xiao is currently a professor of international politics at the Institute of International Studies (IIS), Fudan University, Shanghai, China, and the Director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy at IIS. Dr Ren studied at the University of Essex in the UK (1990�91) and has held various research and visiting positions at the University of Turku, Finland; Nagoya University, Japan; and The George Washing- ton University in Washington, DC, USA. Dr Ren serves on the editorial boards of some international aca- demic journals, including Globalizations, Journal of Global Policy and Governance, East Asia: An International Quarterly and East Asian Policy. He worked at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. He received his Ph.D. degree in political science from Fudan University in 1992.


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  • Abstract
  • Envisaging a new institution
  • China’s role: shaping and shaped
  • Functions and potentials
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Disclosure statement
  • Notes on contributors
  • References
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