HELSINKI – Norway said Tuesday it intends to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a prospective founding member to promote closer ties to the Asia-Pacific region, a move that could help the country’s frozen relations with China thaw.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said the Scandinavian country is a major contributor to global development efforts and wants to be among the countries in “further refining the structure and mission” of the Chinese-led bank.
“We hope the launch of the (bank) will help address a widely acknowledged infrastructure funding gap in Asia,” Brende said. “China’s initiative highlights the increasing weight of the new and emerging powers.”
Beijing proposed the creation of the bank in 2013 to finance infrastructure investments in developing Asian countries and has pledged to put up most of its initial $50 billion in capital.
The Asian bank has attracted interest from dozens of governments despite U.S. objections it might undercut the World Bank and other international financial institutions.
In a diplomatic coup for Beijing, U.S. allies Britain, Germany, Australia and Taiwan have broken with Washington and announced plans to join. Japan and South Korea are holdouts.
A senior U.S. Treasury official said Monday that Washington welcomed China’s increased role in infrastructure finance but urged the bank to work in partnership with the World Bank and other existing institutions to ensure high standards.
Norway’s Brende said his country expects the bank to “work closely” with the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and after the terms of governance and accountability have been set will make a final decision on joining.
For Norway, the move could help bolster relations with China which have remained frozen since 2010 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Diplomatic ties were broken off and Norwegians have struggled to get visas to visit China. Also, China restricted imports from Norway.
But Beijing said Norway needs to do more.
“Our position on Sino-Norwegian relations remains unchanged,” the Chinese Embassy in Norway said in a statement. “We hope that the Norwegian side would do more to help rebuild mutual political trust between our two countries, and make positive efforts to improve the bilateral ties.”
The statement also reiterated that the bank is an “open and inclusive multilateral development institution.” It said that “any country willing to join the AIIB will be welcomed.”
AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.