China’s establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has proven a controversial addition to the global economic architecture. Critics in the west have alleged it is a vehicle designed to achieve China’s geostrategic goals; while many scholars have suggested it marks a transition from a ‘status quo’ to ‘revisionist’ agenda in Chinese foreign policy. This article argues that such revisionist interpretations are incorrect, as they fail to account for how China’s AIIB strategy evolved between proposal and launch. In creating the AIIB, China needed to strike a balance between its own goals and the desire of its partners for a transparent and commercially-oriented bank. To secure a broad membership and international legitimacy, China compromised with partners during negotiations over the AIIB’s form in 2015. It dropped several controversial elements from its initial proposal, and agreed to western country demands to reproduce the governance practices of the existing multilateral development banks. These compromises evidence a change from a revisionist to status-seeking agenda in China’s AIIB strategy. This transition reveals the flexibility of Chinese economic statecraft, and its willingness to compromise with partners to boost the legitimacy of its claims to leadership status in the global economy.
About the speaker
Jeffrey D. Wilson is a Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy in the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University. His research interests include international political economy, resource politics, and economic regionalism in the Asia-Pacific. He has published widely in leading international journals on the political economy of Asian regionalism, consults for governments on trade, energy and security policy issues, and is a sought-after commentator on Asian affairs. He was the inaugural winner of the Australian Institute of International Affairs’ Boyer Prize (2012) for his work on the politics of China-Australia mining investment. His latest book is International Resource Politics in the Asia Pacific: The Political Economy of Conflict and Cooperation (Edward Elgar, 2017).
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