Pierre Gramegna, minister of finance, Luxembourg

Q: What is the nature of your relationship with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB]?


A: We recognised long ago that there is a need for a bank like the AIIB. First, before its establishment, the only other multilateral development bank [MDB] focusing specifically on infrastructure investment was the European Investment Bank [EIB], which is based here in Luxembourg. However, 85% of its loans remain in the EU, whereas the AIIB focuses on the whole Eurasian continent. Second, it is a very welcome multilateral initiative at a time when unilateralism and nationalism tend to have a bit more wind in their sails. Third, we have a very large financial centre that, as a strong partner, we can offer to the AIIB to implement its policies.  

Q: How can AIIB membership strengthen Luxembourg’s financial centre?

A: First, we are the second largest investment fund centre in the world after the US. We provide a very interesting platform to attract private capital into projects. A second way concerns the stock exchange. Two-and-a-half years ago we launched the green stock exchange, the only one in the world that lists green bonds and socially responsible bonds exclusively. Today, more than a half of all the green bonds listed worldwide are listed here – I see a lot of potential there to work together. Last but not least, by being an international financial centre, and the place where the EIB is located, it is a very natural place to work with the AIIB.

Q: Is the AIIB a way for Beijing to increase its soft power?

A: The high standards of the AIIB have been ensured by its 100 shareholders. China is the largest one, but not the only one – for example, all the European countries have 23% of its shares. If you look at the management, there are few Chinese people, especially at the highest levels [which again is a sign of independence]. The 'lean, clean and green' model is a good summary. Lean means very efficient; clean means abiding by the highest standards and fighting corruption; green concerns the green aspect. Few MBDs have all of that so prominently stated in their statutes and objectives.

Indranee Rajah, minister in the prime minister’s office, second minister for finance and education, Singapore

Q: What is the nature of the relationship between Singapore and the AIIB?

A: Singapore was one of the early countries to come on board because we could see the value that an MDB such as the AIIB could bring to the region. Demand for infrastructure in Asia is huge, so clearly there is a funding gap. That gap needs to be met, partly by public finding, partly by private funding. Having a bank like the AIIB, that wants to come in and contribute to this, was to us a good idea. There is much good that infrastructure can bring. But we must get the funding right, the structure right and the project right.

Q: What is your assessment of what has been done in AIIB’s first three years?

A: From the very beginning the bank was clear in its mission: [to be] clean, lean and green. It has been quite true to that mission. Also clear from the beginning [was] it was to be inclusive and truly international and it has been trying hard to stay true to that. Today different nationalities work with the bank. In the early days, it was struggling a bit because the staffing was not [sufficient]. But it has grown rapidly in the past three years and is on track now. It is also good that the AIIB is not just a pure Asian bank, but also features members from Europe – this is good because it is really trying to build connectivity between Asia and Europe and elsewhere.

Q: How can Singapore contribute to the AIIB mission?

A: Singapore is an infrastructure hub and many of the services that support infrastructure are present in Singapore. We are an engineering, consulting and financial centre for the region. A lot of infrastructure financing can be channelled through Singapore; for this reason, several development banks and construction banks set up here.

Q: Is the AIIB a way for Beijing to increase its soft power? 

A: From what we have seen, the AIIB is trying hard to be international, inclusive and diverse; thus far it has been keeping to that objective. It is important for the bank to work with all partners. From our perspective, we would encourage the AIIB to be a channel for infrastructure into Asia and elsewhere and maintain its inclusive mandate. Multilateralism is a good way to go. The more cooperation we have, the more people are willing to talk and see each other as friends.

Mohamed Maait, minister of finance, Egypt

Q: What is the nature of the relationship between Egypt and the AIIB?

A: It is an excellent relationship. The AIIB has already contributed to two big projects – a solar power plan project and a sanitation project – and there are now talks regarding new projects. The AIIB is more interested in connectivity and crossborder infrastructure and looks for projects that meet these characteristics. We have the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and I believe this could be of interest for the AIIB to develop infrastructure within the zone as Chinese investors are already there, as well as Russians. Another area of possible co-operation is gas infrastructure, as Egypt is now a gas producer and exporter.

Q: What role could MDBs play in meeting Egypt’s big infrastructure challenges?

A: We are targeting to grow by 6% this year and to accelerate to 7% by 2022. We cannot do that with only government investment. By 2050 we are going to be close to, if not over, 150 million people [from 97.5 million in 2017]. We need private sector development partners, international financial institutions. We rely on their participation to mobilise funding. We are very open minded in terms of different models of financing to encourage different models of participation in sustaining GDP growth.

Q: Is the AIIB a way for Beijing to increase its soft power?

A: I believe that working with the AIIB has been excellent and has served the interests of the Egyptian people, our neighbours, and the needs of local and international development. I’m an Egyptian citizen working for the development of my country, and I will welcome any initiative that can help us achieve that. The AIIB is part of that, China is part of that, as well as many other countries and international financial institutions.

Mustafa Kamal, minister of finance, Bangladesh

Q: What is the nature of your relationship with the AIIB?

A: The AIIB has not come up in a big way; it has committed about $500m in projects in Bangladesh. So far there have been no misunderstandings. We give the AIIB projects at our terms, [and it looks to] match the financing needs. Everyone is talking about making projects bankable, but we are not doing projects only to see GDP growth, we are doing projects for tomorrow. There are some investments we have to make [work] today although they wouldn’t immediately show up in our GDP figures. The AIIB should finance those projects too – I’m thinking of social projects, such as sanitation.

Q: Is the AIIB a way for Beijing to increase its soft power?

A: So far, I’ve not seen in any way that it is pursing a political [agenda]. It might have political intent, but [if that is the] case the AIIB will fail. There should be a clear line of demarcation. On the other hand, if it is about economics, it will be welcomed by everybody.

Q: You have big ambitions of economic growth through to 2041. What will be the main drivers of this growth?

A: Look at our location. On our left we have India and its 1.3 billion inhabitants; on the right we have China, and another 1.4 billion people. They will become the first and the second largest economic powers in the world. Our locational advantage is [highly] strategic.