Austria sets its sights on the AIIB

Updated: 2015-03-28 06:21

By LI XIAOKUN(China Daily)

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Vienna 'attaches great importance to the institution'; South Korea submits its application

Austria sets its sights on the AIIB

President Xi Jinping and his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer inspect an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. [Photo by XU JINGXING/CHINA DAILY ]

Austria has joined the list of countries applying to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with the European nation's president saying in Beijing on Friday that Vienna attaches great importance to the institution.

The announcement comes ahead of Tuesday's deadline for prospective founding members to join the bank.

In a further sign of the bank's increasing appeal, South Korea also submitted its application to join on Friday.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer told President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, "Austria expects the bank to help China's cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe."

Xi told Fischer, "Our bilateral relationship is on a new starting point."

The Chinese Finance Ministry said on its website, "China welcomes Austria's decision." If approved by other members, Austria and South Korea will become founding members of the bank on April 11, it said.

The ministry also said that Luxembourg has been accepted by other would-be members, raising the number of prospective founding members to date to 28.

Fischer also said Austria is deeply attracted by China's "One Belt, One Road" strategy, which refers to developing the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road-an initiative to promote economic and cultural ties with neighboring countries.

The Austrian president, who is on a state visit to China, will attend the 2015 Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province.

Although the United States has tried to persuade its allies to stay out of the bank, the floodgates opened after Britain unexpectedly announced on March 12 that it was applying to join.

Several other countries, including France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Turkey, have also said they want to join.

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country is "well and truly" disposed to joining the bank as long as it is a multilateral institution with transparent governance, clear accountability and with major decisions made by the board.

The AIIB will provide financial support for infrastructure projects in Asia.

Kamel Mellahi, a professor at Britain's Warwick Business School, said countries could use China's funding capacity through the bank to build transportation infrastructure, explaining why many countries outside Asia are applying to join.

"In the long term, the strategy ... will have a profoundly positive impact on Eurasia, the Middle East and a significant part of Africa," Mellahi said.

Zhang Jianxiong, a European studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that by joining the bank, members will get economic benefits and be able to consolidate their political ties with China.

"The earlier they join, the bigger the say they will have in the institution that will help reshape global financing rules," Zhang said.

A spokesman for the Austrian Finance Ministry has said that AIIB membership will bring more opportunities for Austrian companies. The nation's economy has been hindered by high unemployment and a sluggish eurozone.

However, its trade volume with China rose by 16.7 percent to $8.25 billion last year. China is Austria's second-largest trading partner outside the European Union.

Xinhua contributed to this story.