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China ends sign-ups for new Asia bank

China wrapped up Tuesday its enlistment of founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that was launched last October to expedite the region’s growth by channeling funds into key infrastructure projects.

As of midday, at least 45 countries applied for membership of the bank ― with a proposed equity of $100 billion ― with Taiwan, Russia, Finland and Egypt joining at the last minute.

Regarding earlier reports of China’s alleged denial of North Korea’s entry, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Tuesday it was not aware of the reports.

However, Hua repeated that the Chinese-led AIIB would welcome “all parties,” without specifying North Korea by name.

“We welcome the participation of all parties to jointly promote infrastructure-building in Asia,” he said.

A senior North Korean envoy met with Jin Liqun, the interim head of the AIIB, in Beijing in February during which the North expressed its intention to join the Chinese-led bank, Emerging Markets reported on its website, citing a Chinese diplomatic source.

South Korea unveiled its participation last week, following European powers such as the U.K., Germany, France and Italy.

North Korea is completely isolated from the global financial community, without membership of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. But China lends money to its impoverished neighbor to help shore up its crumbling economy in return for natural resources or mining rights.

Masahiro Kawai, a professor of public policy at the University of Tokyo and former dean and chief executive officer of the Asian Development Bank Institute in Manila, said that the barriers to entry for Pyongyang would simply be too high because it requires a “proper snapshot” of public finances including all economic activity broken down by industry and tax base.

Among major economies, the U.S. and Japan remain as big holdouts. Tokyo on Tuesday ruled out any immediate plans to take part in the institution, dismissing speculation that it could join within a few months.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who is now visiting Beijing, expressed hopes to cooperate with the AIIB during talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday, while “welcoming and supporting” the initiative, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.

The report also highlights a protracted discord between North Korea and China, its prime political and economic patron, ever since the shock execution in December 2013 of Jang Song-thaek, leader Kim Jong-un’s influential uncle known for close ties with Beijing.

Pyongyang has been seeking to perk up relations with Russia instead, dispatching senior envoys to Moscow and devising joint industrial projects.

By Shin Hyon-hee and news reports (
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Korea Herald daum