摘要：Last year’s launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—a new multilateral develop-ment bank with fifty-seven sovereign members, among them some of the United States’ closest alliesis appropriately viewed as a diplomatic and strategic victory for the Chinese government.
Last year’s launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—a new multilateral develop-ment bank with fifty-seven sovereign members, among them some of the United States’ closest alliesis appropriately viewed as a diplomatic and strategic victory for the Chinese government. Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reinforce the perception that the AIIB was a Chinese project; he appeared at least four times on behalf of the new multilateral development bank (MDB) over the course of two years.
In doing so, he was borrowing from an old Washington playbook. It had long been U.S. practice for the American president to welcome the world’s delegates to the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington with a policy speech. Yet the previously unbroken tradition ended in 1999. Over the course of the next two administrations, the welcoming speech fell off the to-do list.
The contrast between the U.S. and Chinese attitudes toward the symbolism of these meetings reveals something deeper and more troubling. In the face of growing U.S. indifference to multilateral development institutions, China is stepping up. It is not just a matter of presidential speeches. As the Chinese were opening the AIIB’s doors in early 2015, the U.S. Congress still had failed to act on a 2010 IMF governance reform package that other major countries considered essential, and across the MDBs, U.S. officials were viewed more as obstacles to than as champions for an ambitious development agenda.
A year later, this dramatic narrative may seem less starkly defined. Congress has finally approved the IMF reforms, and the AIIB has energized the other MDBs to increase their financial capacity with no apparent opposition from the United States. The AIIB itself has now shifted away from the spotlight of signing ceremonies to the more prosaic work of creating a functioning institution.
But the circumstances around the creation of the AIIB have usefully brought to light a longer trend that, if left unaddressed, will ultimately lead to a diminution of U.S. leadership in the multilateral development system, brought about as much by the United States itself as by external challengers. China was successful in attracting so many countries to join the AIIB by offering more infrastructure financing (and all that implies in terms of procurement and commercial opportunities) at a time when the prospect for additional financing appeared limited within the core MDBs, in large part due to U.S. resistance.
The task for U.S. officials in the years ahead should be to accommodate a larger role for emerging countries, particularly China, in the multilateral development bank system, but to do so from a position of strength and with ambition for the MDBs in U.S. policy. The alternative, in which the United States neither makes space for new voices nor promotes the MDBs themselves, will inevitably lead to a weaker system that will harm the United States and the global good.