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China's finance minister says new bank to complement, not compete with, existing institutions

BEIJING, China – China’s finance minister said a proposed Chinese-led Asian regional bank that has raised concerns in Washington will complement rather than compete with established international lenders such as the World Bank, state media reported Saturday.

The official Xinhua News Agency cited Lou Jiwei as saying that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s establishment, expected by the end of 2015, would enable China to shoulder more responsibility for global development.

Like other regional investment vehicles, such as the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the AIIB would not weaken established institutions, but reinforce them and “more vigorously push forward the global economy,” Lou was quoted as saying.

Lou’s comments appeared aimed at assuaging U.S. worries after Germany, France and Italy followed Britain on Tuesday in announcing plans to join the AIIB.

Washington has expressed concern that the new bank will allow looser lending standards for transparency, the environment and labour, and undercut the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Lou said other countries would be welcome to join even after a March 31 deadline expires.

China proposed the bank in 2013 to finance construction of roads, ports and other infrastructure. It has pledged to put up most of its initial $50 billion in capital. Twenty-one other governments, including India, New Zealand and Thailand, have said they want to join, but the U.S. and close allies Japan, South Korea and Australia have not.

The bank is one of a series of initiatives by Beijing to increase its influence in global finance and expand trade links. Some see those as attempts to erode U.S. and Japanese influence over institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Switzerland also announced plans to become a prospective founding member of the AIIB, saying this week it “can play a significant role in ensuring that the new bank complies with the international standards in terms of its operating activities and development co-operation.”

Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Amann said in an interview with the daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung published Saturday that Switzerland thought it important to get involved from the beginning to underscore “principles and conditions that are important to us.”

“The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and this new bank should consider themselves as complementary to each other,” he was quoted as saying. “But if there is a bit of competition on one project or another, I would even see that as an advantage. That increases efficiency.”

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.