by Michael Smith in the Australian Financial Review on 5 April 2017
If China has any hard feelings about Australia’s initial reluctance to join the $US100 billion Asia infrastructure bank, then Jin Liqun is good at hiding it.
Mr Jin, one of China’s most senior bankers and president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also doubles as a literary scholar with a penchant for the works of Australian author Patrick White. On a visit to Australia this week, Mr Jin twinned his two roles to compare the Australian “pioneering spirit” reflected in White’s novels with the new China-led bank’s mandate to invest in badly-needed Asian infrastructure.
Rather than punishing Canberra for its last-minute decision to join the AIIB two years ago, Mr Jin held up the nation as a role model for developing Asian economies. After meeting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Treasurer Scott Morrison, he told an group of business, legal and political leaders at a private dinner in his honour on Monday night that Australia had a “special role” to play in the organisation.
“It was not too late,” Mr Jin later told The Australian Financial Review when asked if Australia’s last-minute decision to join watered down its influence in the bank. “Throughout the whole process in the establishment of this bank I would say every country has contributed…and as a regional member, as a developing country, Australia has a special role.”
“It would be a big problem for us if Australia missed out as a lender,” he added, referring to Australia’s history an a sound economic manager, its rule of law and a “very high standard” of doing business, which provided lessons for developing Asian countries.
His comments contrast to reports that Australia missed out on one of the bank’s five vice-presidencies because former prime minister Tony Abbott and Ms Bishop initially declined to join following pressure from the United States which is not a member. Australia eventually signed up in June 2015, contributing $930 million. Mr Jin said he had a “very good meeting” with Ms Bishop and acknowledged there were differences between some of the bank’s 57-member states over whether to add coal to its green lending energy policies.
Mr Jin’s connection to Australia goes back to 1979 when he was a young academic in China, which was encouraging Communist Party members to explore culture from Europe and other western countries following the end of the Cultural Revolution. After his professor, fresh from a visit to the Adelaide Writers Festival, returned with a pile of Australian novels, Mr Jin translated the first five chapters of Patrick White’s Tree of Man into Mandarin.
On Monday night, the Global Foundation presented Mr Jin with the 1955 original true edition of The Tree of Man at the private dinner. Mr Jin, a former Chinese deputy finance minister who last visited Australia six years ago as chairman of China International Capital Corp (CIC), compared the “pioneering spirit” of the main character in White’s novel to the philosophy of the AIIB. Mr Jin has already reserved a place for the gift on his Beijing bookshelf next to several original works of Shakespeare.
“Like the bank, it is imbued with the spirit of pioneering,” Mr Jin said of the novel.
“When I think about the people who have yet to be lifted from poverty in many Asian countries, when I think about the way the Chinese have tried to transform the economy and their livelihood over the past four decades. I see the same kind of similarities between the life in the Tree of Man and the life we personally have experienced.”
The US and Japan were reluctant to join the AIIB, fearing China would use it to exert its influence in the region and rival the World Bank and Asia Development Bank. The AIIB has since recruited 57 members, including most major European and Asian powers and in March approved 13 new members, including Canada. It has raised $US2 billion in loans, which are aimed at building crucial infrastructure and clean energy investments in Asia.