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Australia changes mind on China-proposed AIIB

2015-03-17 08:59 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

Australian leaders have been lining up in the past few days to voice support on Australia's joining of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a conspicuous U-turn from the cabinet's previous stance.

The latest wave of support came after the United Kingdom announced to join the discussion with China on the 50-billion-U.S. dollar development bank.

Treasurer Joe Hockey was the first to say last Friday that Australia will consider joining the AIIB.

"This is something that will obviously be taken into account by the government over the next few weeks as we continue our dialogue with those people behind the bank," Hockey said.

"Quite obviously China has improved the governance structure it is proposing for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank," he added.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott then made the same remarks during an interview with Sky News on Sunday.

"Our position all along has been that we are happy to be part of some thing which is a genuine multilateral institution such as the World Bank, such as the Asia Development Bank," Abbott said.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop became the latest to join the choir, saying Australia has "considerable interest" in joining the bank.

"It has always been our intention to discuss this matter with China, to negotiate with China, we've put forward a number of concerns that we had, they have taken them on board and we've been working through those issues with China," Bishop told reporters.

Her words are of more significance as it was Bishop who at a cabinet National Security Committee meeting last year argued against Australia's involvement in the bank, quoting the bank's governance, transparency and accountability as concerns.

The United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea have initially declined to support the bank last year, citing concerns about its governance.

The bank is being promoted by China as a way of financing regional development. However, the United States sees it as an instrument of China to exert influence in the region.

Twenty-one countries including China, India and Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Beijing in October last year to build the bank.

China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said on March 6 that 27 countries had applied to join the bank as founding members.

Australia's refusal to join the AIIB as one of the founding members had got thumbs down across business sector and by many political figures.

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating told Australian Financial Review in November last year that China's effort should be respected.

"The West and the United States said they wish China would conduct in a multilateral structure. But when China proposed one like the AIIB, they rejected," Keating said, "China's effort in working in a multilateral system should be supported not resisted. "

Ian MaCubbin, then National President of the Australia China Business Council (ACBC), told Xinhua in November last year that the bank is a significant proposal, and is one which should be given serious consideration.

"From ACBC's viewpoint, it's important to be part of the organization from the beginning so that if there are opportunities, Australia would try to shape the organization to address the concern, to fulfil its best possible role as a multilateral bank and provide much-needed infrastructure capital in Asia," he said.

Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox commented on Monday that the government is right to rethink its opposition to joining the AIIB.

As the global economy's centre of gravity shifts from the Atlantic to China, it was essential that Australia was part of the change, he said.

"By reversing its opposition ... the government would be positioning Australia to be an active participant in this changing landscape, not simply a bystander," Willox said in a statement.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanya Plibersek and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen teamed up to show support to the joining of the bank, while taking the opportunity to attack Bishop who, as they accused, "totally mishandled" the issue and was now playing catch-up.

The government should have announced its support for the bank months ago, according to the Plibersek and Bowen.

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