Investing In The Potential Of New Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
Despite the significant economic growth enjoyed by countries such as China, India, and South Korea in recent decades, many countries among the developing Asian region are still mired in poverty, suffering from a profound lack of access to modern-day necessities such as sanitation, a reliable power grid, and adequate transportation and communications networks.
For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that as much as 25% of India’s population (over 300 million Indian citizens) have no access to electricity, while two-thirds of India’s population (over 800 million Indian citizens) have no access to clean cooking facilities. The IEA also estimates that over 600 million Asians have no access to electricity while over 1.8 billion Asians have no access to clean cooking facilities.
Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a Manila-based regional development bank designed to facilitate economic development in Asia, estimated in 2010 that developing Asian countries have an infrastructure demand of about $8 trillion over the ten years to 2020, including $2.5 trillion for roads and railroads, $4.1 trillion for power plants and transmission, and $1.1 trillion for telecommunications, and $0.4 trillion for water and sanitation investments.
Despite China’s recent infrastructure investments and rapid growth, including a $586 billion stimulus package to invest in infrastructure and social welfare in 2010, there remains a structural financing gap for infrastructure in developing Asian countries. The lack of an adequate infrastructure to sustain basic needs in developing Asian countries is distressing for two primary reasons: 1) Asia houses about 4.5 billion people, or about 62% of the world’s population. Put simply, the world is hugely dependent on Asia to drive future economic growth. Without adequate infrastructure, global economic growth will surely disappoint; and 2) A region where a vast segment of its population is disenfranchised also breeds resentment and poses a long-term security risk.
This is why China recently created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Seeded with $100 billion (most of which is Chinese money), the AIIB counts among its members some of Asia’s poorest countries (e.g. Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Pakistan); however, just last week, the AIIB gained significant momentum (and press) when it signed up countries such as France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and Switzerland.
I believe China’s creation of the AIIB, along with similar institutions such as the $40 billion ‘Silk Road’ infrastructure fund, has three overarching goals:
It is in China’s interest to improve the lives of its neighbors—this creates social cohesion while creating a material export market for more Chinese-made goods; moreover, China has $3.8 trillion in foreign currency reserves that are yielding anywhere from 0% to 2%. China’s foreign reserves could garner higher investment returns by investing in Asian-based infrastructure projects;
Increase China’s sphere of influence in Asia and over time, elevate the Chinese currency, the Yuan, to compete with the U.S. dollar and the Japanese Yen as the region’s reserve currency;
Utilize the $100 billion AIIB and $40 billion Silk Road infrastructure fund as a counter-weight to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, which are dominated by the U.S. and her allies.
As part of President Xi Jinping’s ‘New Silk Road Economic Belt’ strategy to integrate the Eurasian continent via improved infrastructure, China is also creating a 16.3 billion fund that would be available to Chinese provinces for financing domestic infrastructure construction along the planned routes. I estimate these three funds will provide an incremental50 billion a year in infrastructure financing in developing Asian countries going forward. This plan is highly credible, as China has already worked with many foreign countries—including those in developing markets—in financing infrastructure projects in the past.
The president of the ADB, Takehiko Nakao, has also expressed a desire to collaborate with the AIIB, while Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), just gave her stamp of approval at the China Development Forum in Beijing this past weekend. With France, Germany, the UK, and Switzerland having recently signed on, the AIIB’s corporate governance and transparency will also benefit. All these will bring significant credibility to China’s infrastructure plans and thus attract other investors (including Americans) into Asia across the world.