19 March, 2015


People, in case your local media failed to inform you, here’s the news: the New World Order just ended today. The balance of power just shifted to Eurasia, and its going to be a new and hopefully more peaceful century.

Italy joined the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank yesterday (March 17th, 2015), followed by France and Germany. England has also decided to join, despite vociferous opposition from the USA.

The USA’s ostentatious reason is that China doesn’t have the capacity to run a bank of this stature, because its culture is too corrupt and it doesn’t have the capacity to monitor corruption. And, it says, China will use this opportunity to consolidate itself as a global power, since it would have inordinate say in the workings of the bank.

All of these are valid concerns. The only problem with these arguments, though, is that the Third World’s big powers, long cut out of the decision-making processes of the World Bank and the ADB, has now come into their own. They are raring to provide infrastructure to the 7 billion or more people (I am guessing the numbers here) who do not live in developed countries, and the World Bank and the ADB are simply not moving fast enough for them.

The Europeans joining the AIIB is a good thing, because despite its hype, China actually doesn’t have the democratic firepower to keep an institution of this nature on course without it running into giant problems that affect banking and investment in China today. In particular, I am thinking of those giant ghost cities that were built entirely without consultation with the people who were going to use them, and the way they now remain empty. China’s top-down decision making process is apparent here, and the Europeans will hopefully bring a dose of realism, and democratic governance, which will make infrastructure not just a heady Superman endeavor that rich people indulge in to show off their powerful connections and access to capital, but also an endeavor by, and for, the people.

I like the idea that Italy was the first European country to join the AIIB. I always think of Italy, despite its corruption, to be a country where quality is valued highly, and aesthetics too. By aesthetics, I mean not just how things look, but the total ambience of any built environment, with the Italians paying very close attention to the interaction between humans and man-made edifices. So I think it’s a good thing that they will be sprinkled throughout this Bank, like spice, and hopefully they will have enough decision-making power to create institutions and infrastructure which will be not just giant and impressive, but also human and user-friendly too. And hopefully these structures built will also look beautiful.

I also like the fact the French will bring their bureaucratic foot-dragging into the Bank. After being the “beneficiary” of a road-building program initiated by local Nepali Maoist head honcho Baburam Bhattarai, and seeing the way in which environmental guidelines, concerns for groundwater recharging, historical neighborhood preservation, century old trees, zoning, children’s schools concerns, and monsoon water drainage were all thrown out of the window to bulldoze a historic neighborhood for the sake of “development,” I realize a little bit of bureaucratic foot-dragging is a good thing. Hopefully the French, who love regulation, will be able to insert some of their concerns, and their long history of democratic governance, into this new institution.

The Germans will bring their efficiency, without doubt. And hopefully it won’t get into a China-Germany tussle for power, as in Europe. The English, of course, will be ever ready to make a profit—and lets hope they will do so without replicating their colonial history. I am hoping the English will also be able to educate the Chinese on the idea that economic development happens not just through concrete structures, but also through cultural institutions, and that books, films, music, cinema and other forms of cultural production are equally in need of “infrastructure development,” and that proper investment in these fields could hold up the economies of entire countries—as the British have proved with their own economy.

Japan has till March 31st to join this Bank. I think its time for Japan and China to make up and realize this is a new century. Japan is part of Asia. It cannot stay apart and isolated—its economy has to become integrated with the rest of the region’s. With its aging population, its more than even necessary that it seeks ways to find new forms of economic sustainability. With the Silk Road initiative that China has started, Japan can find many different ways to create meaningful employment for its people, old and young. So I hope that Japan will forget old grievances and join up. Why not make an apology if its going to end this bitter feuding of the ages? (Incidentally, an apology from Japan about war-related atrocities should then bring on a similar apology from China to Tibetans for their own human rights violations and atrocities.)

 Lets hope the start of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank is a true bridge between Europe and Asia, and that new forms of economic opportunities, as well as learning about governance, will arise through this exchange on both sides.

Here’s to peaceful co-existence!

(POP! Yes, that was champagne you just heard.)

PS: As to America… hmmm… I think America is busy fighting many wars in many continents…

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