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Asian middle powers and developing countries are trying to manage a delicate balance between their old security ally and new economic partner. The character of the US—China relationship is not the only factor that will shape the geopolitics of Asia, even if it is the crucial one. The role played by other major Asian powers, most notably Japan and India, will also be important. Both are also important economic, strategic, and development actors in their own right and will also play a key role in shaping the environment in which the ADB must operate in coming decades.

Part of the appeal of South-South cooperation comes from frustration with slow reforms in the established financial institutions. In , the World Bank and the IMF underwent a series of governance reforms to give more voice to emerging markets. The IMF reforms were stalled in the US Congress the United States has veto power in the Fund until when they were passed to shift quota share from advanced economies to emerging markets by 2. The development landscape has changed considerably in a short period of time.

Even Canada applied for membership in and will be part of the next round of AIIB members to be confirmed in China has veto power over all majority decisions in the AIIB. All five countries are founding members and have equal share in the bank. The NDB has a broad mandate for infrastructure and sustainable development but is currently only focusing on development projects within the five founding members.

It wants to issue loans in local currencies and use country standards, and has already released green bonds in renminbi. There are some scenarios where there could be competition between the old and new MDBs.

Infrastructure at the Crossroads : Lessons from 20 Years of World Bank Experience

For example, there could be cases where the ADB does the groundwork for a project with another bank coming in with better terms towards the end of the project. Alternatively, banks could be forced to bid against each other for projects. Despite these concerns, the ADB has reacted positively to the emergence of these potential competitors. This is because the ADB realises that the new banks could be good complements to it, rather than replacements.

The ADB has signed memoranda of understanding with both new banks. The ADB has a long history of both successes and failures , high standards, and a development focus on poverty that the new banks do not. For the ADB, the emergence of potential competitor institutions is not the only significant factor in the changing geopolitics of development.

Another important question is how the big emerging economic players, China and India, choose to engage with the ADB in the future. Both are already significant economies that do not follow the OECD Development Assistance Committee model of development and instead are proponents of South-South cooperation when it suits their interests. Both countries are also developing their own approaches to regional governance. It is not yet clear, however, what role the ADB could have in the initiative.

Strengthening the Asian Development Bank in 21st century Asia

China has had a long and fruitful relationship with the ADB since it joined the Bank in China has the third-largest voting share of 5. At the board level, China is pushing for better knowledge and skills transfer to be a priority for the Bank. Some Bank members, led by the United States, are encouraging China to graduate from developing country status, so that it will no longer have access to non-concessional lending.

In many respects, more important than the question of whether China should graduate from the Bank, is how China could make increased financial contribution to it. China has much to gain from active membership of the ADB. China cares about its role and status as a regional actor, and this means being an active participant in important regional institutions such as the ADB.

Supporting the ADB could also help China to counteract those who criticise it for acting unilaterally and throwing its weight around within the region.


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  4. Like China, however, it is at something of a development crossroads, which affects its relationship with the Bank. With million Indians living in extreme poverty in , India still has serious development challenges. In some respects, it shares with China a desire to promote new approaches to development. This is evident in its approach to development projects in its own neighbourhood, where relations are strained.

    Nearly a third of ADB lending by volume is already in South Asia and there is a lot of scope for the ADB to facilitate regional connectivity as a neutral alternative to bilateral Chinese and Indian investment. Like China, India stands to benefit from engaging in the ADB as an effective regional forum promoting prosperity and helping to deepen its own development relations with its neighbours.

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    As neither country is a member of the AIIB or NDB, they will be under pressure to ensure the ADB remains relevant to borrowing countries, and also that it cooperates with the new banks. The Japanese leadership has underpinned the success of the ADB. There is currently no country in the region which is prepared to provide the amount of financial support to the ADB that Japan has provided. This means that moving away from Japanese influence could have financial consequences for the ADB.

    The key issue for the ADB is whether Japan would be prepared to step away from leadership in the future. This inclination to keep a close hold over the leadership of the ADB will only have been reinforced by the fact that the AIIB is led by a Chinese national. But in the longer term, it would help the ADB to demonstrate it is truly a multilateral bank of the region if the Board eventually elects a president from a different nationality.

    The Japanese commitment to high standards in development is an asset to the ADB. As one observer has argued, Japan knows that it will never be able to provide as much development assistance as China does, so it focuses instead on the quality of that assistance. Japan and the United States have worked together closely in the ADB, but one area of tension has been their differing views on the relationship between the ADB and China. Within Japan, there has been considerable debate about whether to join the AIIB and the original preference of the United States was for Japan not to do so.

    Japan will also have to defend the standards that the ADB has developed over time, while still promoting governance reform within the Bank and encouraging contributions from other regional members. In the s and s, there were differences within the Bank between the United States and East Asian member countries over the appropriate development model for the region. In more recent years the relationship has improved, partly as a result of reforms undertaken by the Bank that are supported by the United States, for example extending into more innovative financing.

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    The United States declined to join the AIIB and was hoping that many of its allies in the region would similarly abstain. There has been considerable speculation about why the United States responded in the way it did. Changes to the ADB governance structure can only come about through a capital increase or the addition of new members, both requiring sign-off from the United States. Australia has been the second-largest contributor to the ADF in the last two replenishment rounds and has followed through on its financial commitments.

    However, given the decline in the Australian aid budget since , Australia could play a lesser role in the future of the Bank. Australia can leverage its position in the ADB by continuing to provide development knowledge and constructive ideas for reform e. Some Australian officials are sympathetic to giving more voice to regional members and this could be a positive force for governance reform in the bank.

    Infrastructure at the Crossroads: Lessons from 20 Years of World Bank Experience

    However, many of the European countries face austerity constraints and their governments are preoccupied by the economic volatility in their own region. Recently, it has been more difficult for the ADB to engage with some of these countries. Historically, some of the European donors have offered the Bank important development perspectives and introduced positive cultural changes, for example a focus on gender equality. There is concern about two camps forming: the new multilateral banks led by China, with faster processes and fewer safeguards, competing with the traditional development banks such as the ADB, with slower processes and higher standards.

    At the same time, some ADB members face declining aid budgets meaning they could be less willing to contribute to the Bank in the future.

    Slow reforms in the established multilateral organisations mean that South-South cooperation is more appealing for some of the ADB developing member countries.