Western private-sector investment funds are being courted by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, said executives at the institution’s annual meeting held last week in Luxembourg.
In a plenary session, Luxembourg’s Minister of Finance Pierre Gramegna said: “We need to crowd in private capital … Public money can trigger the guarantees, but we need the private sector.” Luxembourg is one of the 100 member-countries and regions that are involved in AIIB and the first country outside of Asia to host an AIIB annual meeting.
AIIB has been plagued by accusations that it is an engine employed by Beijing to expand its sphere of influence through funding Belt and Road projects.
But at the meeting last week, a senior executive at a Singapore private equity fund was heard telling other participants that his company was keen to build ties with AIIB through joint investment in projects. There were also more attendees from investment funds this year than in the past, pointing to increased interest from this segment of investors.
Indeed, AIIB is hoping to expand its footprint from China to the rest of Asia and further into Europe. While many countries still have reservations about AIIB, a growing number of investors in Europe and the U.S. view it as a bellwether for prime infrastructure investment opportunities.
From the view of AIIB, it needs the private sector to help fund Asia’s infrastructure needs, estimated to be around $2 trillion per year.
The biggest challenge for AIIB is a shortage of qualified experts to lead its investing and financing operations. The bank has set a target of expanding its staff to 280 employees by the end of 2019 and is scouting for talent in London and Paris. That number would represent a 250% increase from three years ago but is still far smaller than the Asian Development Bank’s workforce of 3,300.
China’s bitter trade row with the U.S. means that Washington is unlikely to join the bank any time soon. Japan’s policy and behaviour toward the bank are inevitably shackled by its relations with the U.S. and other factors concerning the politics of international finance.
But the fact is that the AIIB is attracting financial experts with experience in investment operations at U.S. financial institutions. Major U.S. financial institutions are acquiring detailed information about AIIB’s strategy and inner workings through former employees who have joined the bank.
If Japanese and U.S. financial institutions continue to keep a distance from the AIIB’s projects, they stand to lose out.
In a July 12 press conference, AIIB President Jin Liqun spoke about his visit to Japan and said many Japanese government-affiliated and private-sector financial institutions had shown a strong interest in jointly investing with the AIIB.