Cooperate with China but don’t let anyone know seems to be the name of the game at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) these days. In an era of presidential tweets heard around the world and on-again, off-again White House policy posturing, former ADB official Jeff Procak says it’s hard to tell what the bank’s and Washington’s true intentions are toward China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or its financing arm, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Until November last year, Procak was an ADB regional cooperation specialist for Central Asia. He has also served as the World Bank’s country officer for Russia and worked on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s railway-sector surveys for seven Soviet successor states.
Procak spoke with Asia Times about the complex geopolitical ballet that underpins the ADB’s responses to Chinese development moves in the region.
Do you see the ADB getting involved in China’s Belt and Road projects?
Procak: Yes, but not overtly. We were cautioned not to state specifically in ADB documents that ADB projects support Belt and Road initiatives.
Some of the technical assistance I designed for Xinjiang and Liaoning took [BRI] into account. In fact, for the Liaoning initiative, I wanted to use it as a means for harmonizing the Japan-Mongolia Economic Partnership Agreement with the Belt and Road Initiative. But now that I’m not there, these small projects are languishing.
Is Japan’s hesitancy and wariness about China reflected in the ADB’s policy stance toward the AIIB and BRI?
Procak: Both Japan and the US have up to now refused to join the AIIB. So yes, certainly, there is a healthy dose of geopolitical positioning going on. Having the AIIB tag along as a co-financier seems acceptable for the moment. But [the real question is] will there come a time when the ADB co-finances an AIIB-designated project?
Is the Trump administration’s semi-cooperative stance toward China being reflected in current ADB policy toward the AIIB and BRI?
Procak: This is a big unknown. The US position on anything these days seems to change by the day, if not the hour – or, as a friend put it, by the tweet. The [US] silliness regarding Taiwan a few months back seems already forgotten. But I doubt that Beijing has forgotten.
If the US knew what it was doing – and this is much larger than a current-administration issue – it would quietly find ways to prompt Beijing to act on common concerns like North Korea, faith-based terror and the like. But that’s not something of which Washington appears capable.