AIIB birth: Foreign policy malpractice?

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The AIIB was on the front page of China Daily today again.[1] The nominations are coming in,[2] and even before infrastructure projects are funded, some people already call AIIB "one of China's biggest foreign policy successes."[3]

Perhaps worth repeating: the U.S. is not a member, and its representatives discouraged its allies from joining. Recently, Richard Haass was quite critical of the Obama administration's inflexible attitude when China was laying ground for a new multilateral institution:

I would simply say that in terms of [our] foreign policy malpractice, it figures high on my list. And no one has actually written a definitive public account ...

... it wasn’t clear to me why exactly we opposed it. I thought the idea was to get China to become a greater participant in various types of regional and global machinery. ... we tried to get everybody not to participate, and we failed. So it seemed to be we got it wrong coming and going. Belatedly now we seem to be coming around the idea that maybe, just maybe, under certain circumstances we would look at it somewhat differently. But this was—this was botched.

... And in some ways, one of the worst pieces of it, is it persuaded a lot of Chinese that the principal purpose of American foreign policy is to deny China its proper place in the sun. And I don’t think that’s true. And I think our policy needs to be one of integrating China on rules that are mutually acceptable in the region and the world. And this, to me, was an opportunity to reinforce that. And again, I would have argued not for unconditional American endorsement of the Asia—of the infrastructure investment bank, but conditional support, which is essentially where I think we’re coming around to now.

Is this too harsh? Actually, as the FT editorialized seven months ago: "The Obama administration’s reflexive hostility to the establishment of the AIIB risks giving the impression that the US is less interested in Asian development than in restraining Beijing." It is becoming hard to see U.S. words as consistent with its actions - the CFR "China Issue" page summarizes the U.S. position toward China as follows:

The United States officially welcomes China’s “peaceful rise” and has encouraged its development into a “responsible international stakeholder,” but in recent years the thicket of diplomatic challenges has only seemed to grow. Fresh tensions over Beijing’s trade protections, cyber espionage, maritime disputes, as well as its challenge to the Western-dominated financial order, with the founding of potentially competing development institutions, have piled on perennial issues like human rights and Taiwan.

Joshua Kurlantzick went even further, saying that the administration's behavior looks like anti-China strategy: "[t]he campaign against China’s bank [AIIB] is hardly unique. Since the Obama administration came into office, its Asia strategy has been to fear and combat nearly every move by China to flex its muscles, which Beijing has done through aid grants, trade deals, energy exploration, new diplomatic initiatives and military relations with other nations."

  1. The distribution of votes at the AIIB is shown here. From the article AIIB chief rules out China veto power: "Jin said that when China put forward the idea of setting up the AIIB, many doubts and concerns were expressed, but the bank has now become accepted by many countries. “This is the process of China gaining credibility and building up mutual trust by collective consultation and making decisions on democratic approaches,” he said. But he said that the bank’s inauguration is just the first leg of a long journey and that the most important thing is to recruit staff members to make his words become a reality by meeting the infrastructural demands of countries in need." ↩︎

  2. Mr. Osborne's nominee is questioned in this article. ↩︎

  3. BI: China to invest additional $50 million in AIIB: President Xi ↩︎

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