- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Obama administration-appointed president of the World Bank says he feels in no way threatened by — and instead fully supports — China’s creation of a massive infrastructure investment bank, despite the administration’s tireless behind-the-scenes attempts to smear the project.

Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American who has headed the World Bank since President Obama tapped him for the post in 2012, said he and others at the international lending institution have “been working quite closely” with Chinese officials on the $50 billion Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

He made the comments Friday, hours after Beijing officially launched the bank, which Chinese officials tout as a fresh well of cash for badly needed loans that developing nations around the globe can spend on telecommunications, transportation, energy and other projects.

The catch is that the Obama administration privately stands in firm opposition to China’s project on grounds that it is a calculated attempt by Beijing to undermine American dominance over multilateral international lending since shortly after World War II, when the World Bank was created. With headquarters in Washington, it has always been run by a U.S. citizen.

Several major news outlets, including the Financial Times and The New York Times, have carried reports in recent days highlighting the administration’s attempt to convince other world powers to stay away from the Chinese bank for a host of reasons.

Chief among them, according to U.S. officials cited in the reports, is the risk that Beijing is about to start doling out development loans in a fashion that flatly abandons labor, procurement, environmental and human rights standards that the World Bank has long fought to uphold as a reflection of American norms around the globe.

Mr. Kim, who spoke with reporters Friday at a breakfast in Washington hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, suggested that he simply does not spend much time worrying about such risks and that the White House’s political push has carried little weight inside the hallways of the World Bank.

Asserting that the bank is “not a political organization” and that it is “actually in our articles of agreement that we don’t get involved in domestic politics,” Mr. Kim said, those who seek to know where Washington stands on the Chinese bank will “have to ask the U.S. their position on it.”

As for the World Bank’s position, he said, “my sense is that we can work with [the Chinese] very well.”

“The Chinese government began talking with us very early on, really sort of immediately after they had this idea that, especially in Asia, there’s nowhere near enough money for infrastructure investment,” Mr. Kim said.

In July, he told reporters that China’s proposal for the bank is good because the developing world has a “massive need” for infrastructure investment.

He defended that position Friday, asserting that the nearly $1.5 trillion needed for infrastructure far surpasses the roughly $205 billion on offer by all of the world’s multilateral development banks and private investors. “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank should be a very welcome addition to the current situation, which is a woeful lack of financing for infrastructure,” Mr. Kim said.

With the new Chinese lending as a backdrop, recent evidence suggests that World Bank leaders may be seeking to reduce their institution’s lending safeguards — despite resistance from the wider international community.

Representatives from more than 300 international rights and civil society groups reportedly walked out of an annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund this month to protest a bank proposal to lower its lending standards.

In a statement featured in a report by The Huffington Post, the organizations said they “strongly object” to a draft version of World Bank loan safeguards because it “derogates from well-established international standards and would effectively dismantle 30 years of policy evolution, setting a dangerous precedent among national, regional and global actors.”

Mr. Kim made no mention of such resistance in his comments Friday. He did, however, say he and others at the World Bank have “been working quite closely with [the Chinese]” toward the successful creation of Beijing’s project. “They want to utilize our technocrats. We’ve been doing everything from project preparation to implementation support, to bringing multifold different groups together to finance budgets,” he said. “I think the critical thing for us would be to make sure that our interests are well woven in.”

Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Mr. Kim said the World Bank would reduce its lending safeguards. The error has since been corrected.

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