Canada expands probe into China-led infrastructure bank

Canada joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in March 2018, acquiring $256 million in shares over five years as its first North American member. The feds went on to halt 'all government led-activity' at the Beijing-based Chinese-led bank on June 14 of this year. 

Canada expands probe into China-led infrastructure bank
AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File) and THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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Concerns of foreign meddling in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have emerged, forcing Canada to suspend its participation in the organization indefinitely.

The AIIB, founded in 2016, is a multilateral development bank that Canada joined in March 2018, acquiring $256 million in shares over five years as its first North American member. 

But on December 8, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced an expanded probe into the infrastructure bank after halting “all government led-activity" at the Beijing-based Chinese-led bank on June 14. 

"In consultation with some of our closest international partners, Canada is expanding its review of the AIIB," said Freeland on Friday. "While our engagement with our partners continues, Canada’s participation in the AIIB will remain indefinitely suspended," she clarified.

The decision came after public relations executive, Bob Pickard, abruptly resigned as its global communications director. He described the bank as a "cesspool" infiltrated by Beijing, which the AIIB denied as "baseless and disappointing." 

"All we're doing with our membership in this bank is we're making China look good as a country able to do multilateralism," wrote Pickard.

The expanded probe will investigate the bank’s investments, governance, and management frameworks and assess if existing environmental and social governance safeguards are required. 

"In October, senior Canadian officials discussed this work with counterparts from Australia, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom at a meeting on the margins of the 2023 Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund held in Marrakech, Morocco," said Freeland.

But the Opposition Tories insist Ottawa should go one step further and pull out their stakes permanently. As of writing, Canada has yet to withdraw its shares from the AIIB, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

On October 23, MPs by unanimous vote passed a motion sponsored by Conservative MP Tom Kmiec to compel examination of the AIIB by the Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. They will invite Freeland to testify as a witness to their investigation. Pickard also faces questions on the AIIB.

The former Bank executive further raised issues with Canada's membership in the AIIB, claiming it promotes the authoritarian regime's image.

"We are effectively supporting the Chinese image campaign to show that they are ready to assume world leadership and, frankly, I don't think that's the country that we should support, especially in the current political environment," wrote Pickard.

"I didn't find a single tangible benefit to communicate back home here to Canada of what this bank does that is consistent with our values in a way that would benefit Canadians," he added.

However, Michael Sabia, then-deputy finance minister, claimed the Bank as legitimate during his public accounts' testimony on November 22, 2022. "It is not a Chinese controlled investment bank," he said.

"Thousands upon thousands of Canadian jobs are reliant on our current trading relationship with China," then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau said at the time.

The Conservative Party since 2020 has demanded Parliament dump the shares. "Where is our money?" Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre asked in the House of Commons on June 14. "How will we get it back?"

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