The Chinese-backed, Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank added to its already considerable weight by including another 13 member nations. For investors, this means infrastructure companies stand to benefit from the financial institution's broader reach.
The additions include Canada, the 10th-largest economy in the world, as well as Belgium, a nation that's potentially on China's overland route for its new Belt and Road plan. They also bring in Hong Kong, which wants to cement a place as the financial center of the infrastructure empire, and Ireland, favored and now notorious for its corporate tax breaks.
It's the first expansion of the AIIB's ranks since it kicked off in January last year with 57 members. The tally now stands at 70 nations -- minus, most notably, the United States and Japan, first and third among the world's largest economies.
There's an alphabet soup of Chinese companies that are among the chief beneficiaries that are already heavily involved in infrastructure investment and construction in Asia. They include China Communications Construction Co. or CCCC HK:1800, China State Construction Engineering SH:601668, China Railway Construction Corp. or CRCC (CWYCY) , not to be confused with another beneficiary, the railways contractor CRRC HK:1766.
China Mingsheng Investment is building power plants in the region, and the Sinohydro Group SH:601669 is constructing hydroelectric plants. CITIC (CTPCY) and the Hong Kong company CK Hutchison (CKHUY) are also big infrastructure players worth a look.
The bank announced the new member states on Thursday; technically, they are "prospective" members for the time being. The AIIB's board has approved their inclusion, but they only join the bank once they have had their membership cleared back home and after they have deposited their first money.
The remaining new nations are generally small, at least in economic might. But they also include an OPEC founding member in the form of Venezuela, and the bank extends its Latin American reach to Peru, too.
Afghanistan, Armenia, East Timor, Ethiopia, Fiji, Hungary and Sudan are the other newbies. The bank also expects to add other new member states later this year.
"I am very proud that AIIB now has members from almost every continent," Jin Liqun, the bank's president, said in announcing the additions.
The Beijing-based bank has as its foremost mission the provision of projects that address what it calls the "daunting infrastructure needs across Asia." Member states have a voting weight based on how much money they contribute to the $50 billion bank.
The United States had hoped to deter other nations from joining the AIIB. Then-president Barrack Obama's administration expressed exasperation when the United Kingdom immediately joined as a founding member.
Its main contention was that the AIIB might not heed to the same high standards as the World Bank, which of course is based in Washington, D.C., and normally led by an American. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank -- based in Manila, in the Philippines -- has always had a Japanese head, since Japan is the largest shareholder, just ahead of the United States.
"This is the U.K.'s sovereign decision," the White House said when Britain joined the AIIB. "We hope and expect that the U.K. will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards." Britain countered that, by joining early, at least it could help shape the institution.
Beijing has been using its construction of infrastructure projects as a form of "soft colonialism," in Africa in particular. But to be honest, where was the West when the original colonialists left, and left no investment behind?
So if China does back much-needed highways, dams and schools, it makes perfect sense that it may also get a good deal on commodities extraction. It's a shame that Chinese companies import a lot of Chinese labor to build those projects, rather than hiring locally, but at least they're bringing in business and helping the economies grow.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia requires $26 trillion in investment in infrastructure by 2030 if some of the world's fastest-growing economies aren't going to be held back. That's a situation that's most acute outside China, the ADB said, which is already spending around 90% of the levels that it needs.
There's been a lot of noise about whether the AIIB would compete with the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. But, of course, there's no reason why the three institutions can't cooperate -- and that's what has happened in the AIIB's first forays. China certainly does expect to get something back for the money it spends. But fair's fair, if you ask me.