AIIB: Bridging the infrastructure gap and aiding COVID-19 recovery
Updated 20:03, 27-Oct-2021

The Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) approved a $356.67-million loan to support the expansion of Chennai Metro Rail System in India, as the multilateral bank began its annual meeting virtually in Dubai on Tuesday at a time when the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual meeting is being held from October 26 to 28.

To get an overview of AIIB's vision and the role it intends to play in the post-COVID reconstruction and recovery of the global economy, CGTN International Editor Abhishek G. Bhaya caught up with AIIB Vice President D. J. Pandian, who oversees the bank's investment operations in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Bhaya: The AIIB has been compared with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Can you briefly describe the mandate of AIIB and what differentiates it from the other multilateral development banks?

Pandian: World Bank started 70 years ago and the ADB 50 years ago. We have been functioning for the last five years. So, we are the newest and young multilateral development bank in this region.

AIIB has its own mandate, it was mainly promoted to bridge the infrastructure gap in the Asia region. We have two-thirds of global population in Asia, but GDP-wise we are only one-third. It's mainly because of the deficiency in infrastructure.

So, we wanted to concentrate on infrastructure development in the region. So, AIIB was started to foster sustainable economic development through investment in infrastructure projects.

Bhaya: How did the bank re-calibrate its strategies in view of the COVID-19 disruption? 

Pandian: At the sign of initial symptoms of COVID-19, which started affecting many of our member countries last year, the AIIB immediately set up the Crisis Response Facility of $13 billion to mitigate economic, financial and public health pressures arising from the pandemic.

Out of this facility so far, we have approved more than 40 projects amounting to $10 billion and we have some more projects in the pipeline for the remaining $3 billion. So, this is mainly to respond to the emergency requirement of our member countries, to buy emergency medicines, emergency equipment and to enlarge their healthcare facilities. Also now we are using this money to buy vaccination in our member countries.

Bhaya: What are the measures being taken by the AIIB to ensure post-COVID redevelopment of infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries?

Pandian: Infrastructure is always a long-term investment. It requires time and huge amount of money. The benefit will flow over a period of time. And so far, we have approved 445 projects amounting to $29 billion.

And in the course of time, we will invest in projects in the energy sector, mostly renewable energy through achieving green economy. We will invest in the transport sector, with climate adaptation. We will invest in water sector, how to save water and how to mitigate climate changes of land and other things. And also we will invest in projects where private sector money flows.

There are also new sectors emerging such as smart cities, urban development, urban transport, Metro etc. There is a glamour for these kind of projects in many countries, and it is highly needed. It is a need of yesterday and we are now discussing today for a better bright future of tomorrow.

Bhaya: What will be the core agenda of the ongoing AIIB's annual meeting this year?

Pandian: Our main agenda is "Investing today for transforming tomorrow." We want a better future for tomorrow, we want better climate resilient projects to be implemented tomorrow. So, at this annual meeting, our main concentration will be to implement our corporate strategy which aims at green infrastructure, regional connectivity, technology-oriented projects, and also to mobilize private sector capital. These are the four cornerstones of our corporate strategy.

To achieve these objectives, we also set aside certain targets. We want to achieve 50 percent private sector projects by the year 2030. We also want at least 25-30 percent of our projects to have regional connectivity. In case of green finance and climate finance, we want to achieve 50 percent by 2025. We will discuss about the ways and means and approaches to achieve these very ambitious targets in a given time frame.

Bhaya: China's Belt and Road Initiative is also focused on infrastructure development in the region. Is AIIB financing some of the BRI projects? Is there a synergy between AIIB and BRI for post-COVID reconstruction of the Global South?

Pandian: One of the main mandates of AIIB is regional cooperation and also partnership with other multilateral and bilateral development organizations. In that way, we will do infrastructure projects, which will benefit our member countries.

BRI is a platform for international cooperation promoted by one country, but we are a multilateral development organization. We have 103 members, across Asia, Africa, America, Australia. So based on our mandate, we have our own set principles and policies, our own governance system, and our own strategy. We will go on implementing or approving projects worth investing as per our policy.

Bhaya: India is the largest beneficiary of AIIB as well as the second largest shareholder in the multilateral bank just behind China. However, there appears to be some misconception in the Indian media and public discourse about the country's role in the bank. Your comments.

Pandian: Is this misconception only in India? I read a lot of international papers, and each of them when referring about AIIB always describes it as China-promoted bank and China-centric bank. This is a misconception. We need to take some proactive steps to say that we are China-based, but we are not China-centric. We are an international bank with multilateral approach. We have members across all continents. So, we have to emphasize on the multilateralism.

Within a period of five years, we have approved 28 projects in India amounting to $6.7 billion. These projects are in across all the sectors – energy, transport, water, and also some private financial intermediaries for affordable housing.

Today (Tuesday), we have signed a loan agreement with Chennai Metro, for the Corridor-4 up to $356 million. This will encourage a lot of urban job seekers and urban moving people to reduce their travel time to a great extent and 30 percent of the workforce in these will be women. It's a pro-gender centric project.

Bhaya: Please tell us about AIIB's ongoing and future investment projects in the other countries in the region that you oversee.

Pandian: In South Asia, Bangladesh is a major country, which is coming up with a number of projects in the transport sector, especially big road construction. There are many projects on energy transmission and distribution which they want to modernize in order to save energy. They have projects in urban development including modernization of the sewage and water supply system in major cities including capital Dhaka.

Indonesia is another country which is approaching us for various projects such as irrigation projects, connectivity projects, and even modernization of energy projects. Sri Lanka has approached too and we are doing projects in the Philippines also to clean up the river in Manila and also in their COVID-19 vaccination and recovery program.

In future, we have to concentrate on the smaller countries like Nepal, Laos, and Cambodia. These countries are low-income countries and they need some support. In the days to come, we will do more projects in these countries.

Bhaya: Afghanistan is another country in South Asia, which has seen recent political changes. Do you have any applications from Afghanistan on their infrastructure needs?

Pandian: The infrastructure need in Afghanistan is unlimited, in any sector, whether it is road, energy, water supply, or digital infrastructure. But we need to look into their debt sustainability. We have not yet received any request from the government. But Afghanistan is one of our members and if a request comes from any government, the bank will look into it based on our policies and procedures.

Bhaya: How has been AIIB's journey so far since its foundation in 2015 and what is the road ahead from here?

Pandian: For a start-up bank that we are, the progress has been tremendous whether in terms of setting up policies, procedures and administrative guidelines. We follow international social and environmental safeguards. We follow the universal procurement policies. We follow the international labor standard. Setting up these policies was challenging, but we were able to do it smoothly with the help and guidance of our board of directors.

In the meantime, we have strengthened our partnership with World Bank, with ADB, with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Because of the partnership with our brother and sister banks, we have been able to approve 147 projects amounting to $29.6 billion. This is a huge amount in six years.

Besides, we also have a very steady healthy pipeline in each and every country. And, with our proposed system of helping the low-income countries, I think we will be able to spread out across all our member countries very soon as per their satisfaction.

Interviewer and video editor: Abhishek G Bhaya

Cameraperson: Miao Yimeng and Wu Yukun

Cover designer: Jia Jieqiong

Production coordinator: Huang Jiyuan

Senior producer: Bi Jianlu

Director: Mei Yan


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