Piin-Fen Kok, director of the EastWest Institute’s China, East Asia and United States Program, spoke to Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia about China’s diplomatic initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The transcript of the interview, which aired during Channel NewsAsia’s First Look Asia program, is given below.
Interviewer: World leaders are gathering in China over the next few days as the annual Boao Forum gets under way in the southern island of Hainan. This year’s meeting comes at a critical time for China. Its economy is slowing, but there is growing momentum for a new development bank it’s leading. Even though it’s an idea rooted by President Xi Jinping and its headquarters, as recently announced, will be based in Beijing, but delegates at the forum insist China will not dominate decisions made at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Development Bank, that’s because they say the AIIB will be held responsible for profits and losses by its stakeholders which, in this case, are the member countries. China’s vice finance minister has said that the bank’s shareholding structure is still under negotiation, but there would be a different [inaudible] for Asian members versus non-Asian members. Still, supporters of the AIIB say the bank will not rival that of the World Bank or the IMF. China has set a deadline of March 31st for countries to apply for founding membership to the bank.
And for more, let’s speak to Kok Piin-Fen in New York. She is the director of the China, East Asia and United States Program at the EastWest Institute. The organization is a think tank for international security policy. Piin-Fen, plans for the implementation of the “One Belt and One Road” initiative are expected to be released at the Boao Forum. Tell us how this initiative is expected to increase economic integration between the east and west.
Kok: Thanks for having me on the show. Essentially the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, as I understand it, is China’s signature diplomatic initiative in the region. It seems to link pretty much the whole Eurasian span of continents from East Asia all the way to the west, right up to the doorstep of Europe, so essentially it’s linking up markets from the maritime part of China’s eastern coast all the way to the western part. So, in that sense, it’s a way for China to tap into this vast market and to help ease domestic pressures within its country in terms of overcapacity in some sectors such as concrete and steel that’s needed for infrastructure, and also providing markets for excess capital.
Interviewer: Piin-Fen, the theme since 2014 has been Asia’s new future, but tell us, can Asia work together, I mean, despite differing strategic positions within the continent?
Kok: I believe so, especially in the area of economic and social development…There is a lot of talk about the geopolitics of all these various competing initiatives, whether it’s AIIB or the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and the Chinese-led RCEP—Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership—but at the end of the day, I think everyone agrees that the goals of these so-called competing initiatives are really to promote the development and prosperity of the region. I think this is a pragmatic reason why you see many Asian countries, including Singapore, joining various so-called competing initiatives at the same time.
Interviewer: Piin-Fen, thanks very much for that. That was Kok Piin-Fen from the EastWest Institute.