THE deadline of March 31 has passed, and 52 countries are now on the list of would-be founders of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
The China-led bank was launched in October last year at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, a year after Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a bank to offer funds for development projects during his official visit to Indonesia.
The initiative would promote regional inter-connectivity and economic integration, he said when delivering a speech at the Indonesian Parliament.
In the past few days leading up to the deadline, news of more countries hurrying to join the AIIB made headlines, especially when a few of them announced the decision at the recently concluded Boao Forum in Hainan province, which Xi officiated.
The world was watching closely to see if the United States and Japan would sign up as founding members just before the deadline, but both have decided to opt out of the bank that is seen as a rival to the Western-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Back in October last year, the bank had confirmation from 21 countries to participate as founding members – Malaysia was one of them – all of which are in the Asian continent.
The tipping point came when the United Kingdom announced its decision to join the AIIB in the middle of March, to the surprise of many.
More countries followed suit right after that, including France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Britain’s Cambridge University, said the rise and growing awareness of the Chinese possibility in the context of a multilateral initiative pressed Britain to act the way it did, making AIIB not just an Asian institution but a global one.
“I think this is an extraordinary historical moment,” he said in a panel discussion during the Boao Forum.
“The new institutions (AIIB and the New Development Bank operated by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) do not necessarily conflict with the Bretton Woods institutions. They are very different.
“The developing countries now account for nearly 60% of global Gross Domestic Product and they represent 85% of the world population.
“The new institutions, unlike the Bretton Woods institutions, are being defined as relevant to the needs of this 85% of world population, most of whom are concentrated in this continent.”
Countries which have missed the March 31 deadline can still join as ordinary members, while those that have already submitted their application will find out if they are on the final list of founding members by April 15.
With an initial capital of US$50bil (RM184bil), AIIB is scheduled to be officially established at the end of the year, after the rules are finalised and signed in mid-2015.
New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley said there is a need to define “infrastructure” to determine the types of projects that are qualified to obtain funding from the AIIB.
“If I could be provocative – if you were to put a diverse group of qualified women and men together and ask them the question, you’ll get a broader definition than if you just ask the question of classical male concept of buildings,” she said.
“We need to stand in the shoes of the people whose lives will be unleashed if we get this right. Just bringing in the classical morals of the same thing would not give us the breakthrough.”
Josette Sheeran, the president and Chief Executive Officer of the Asia Society, chipped in on this, citing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda of building more toilets as an example.
“The reason young girls don’t go to school in India is that there is no toilet. That’s the kind of infrastructure that would really capture the mind of humanity and transform hope in the world,” she said.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was more concerned about the governance of the new banks, placing emphasis on professionalism, transparency and quality leadership.
“The people hired for AIIB must be professionals who know what infrastructure financing is all about,” he said.
“The quality of people will determine the ability of these banks to analyse risks to give money and to make credible loans which are payable back.”
Transparency, in the opinion of Deloitte global chairman Steve Almond, is also key to attract the private sector to come onboard.
“The regional or sub-regional projects are arguably the ones that bring the greatest impact to economic development. But because they go across the borders, they are also harder to manage and least likely to attract private sector capital,” he said.
“We need the mechanism to provide confidence to the private sector, and transparency governance is one of the compelling reasons to encourage them to come and join the projects.”
And what is the magic that would make good governance work?
Li Ruogum, former chairman and president of Export-Import Bank of China, believes in understanding.
“This newly established institution cannot just clone the older one, as we are working in a very different environment.
“We have to accumulate our experiences and need to have a mind of innovation. All should come together and understand each other, and try to achieve good governance.”