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China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): Chinese Influence Over Membership Shares?


Does China exert influence over the AIIB, including its share allocation, to pursue its interests as many skeptical eyes suggest? What explains the subscription shares a member state has at the AIIB? Building upon existing literature on American influence in international financial institutions, we propose a unique theoretical argument on these questions. While most of the extant literature focuses on the US dispensing patronage to politically-economically proximate states, we suggest that China may not be so inclined. Instead, we theorize that states that are a priori distant from China might obtain higher shares relative to their GDP at the AIIB. We reason that this outcome is due to the benefits China faces in attracting more distant states (the supply side) as well as the political costs more distant states face in joining the AIIB (the demand side). More distant states are likely to demand more shares given their higher costs of membership, and China is inclined to accommodate these demands both for institutional legitimacy and the potential benefit of attracting distant countries closer to itself. Our evidence—from multiple interviews with top policy-makers and statistical analysis—provides robust support for our theoretical arguments.

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  1. 1.

    For work that examines the importance of these shares in the context of the Asian Development Bank, see Strand (1999). We use the notions of voting power, voting share, and voting weight interchangeably as in other works (Kaya, 2015; Kim & Lee, 2020), though voting power may also be used to denote a member’s ability to achieve outcomes through voting (Strand & Retzl, 2016). Our usage is consistent with the AIIB’s own reliance on the term “voting power” (; Last accessed: 01/06/2021).

  2. 2.

    On the notion of prestige in International Relations (IR), see Mercer (2017). Prestige reflects the international community’s intersubjective belief that an actor (state) deserves respect and admiration, and states seek it frequently for rational (such as, power) or more psychological reasons. We understand status and prestige as relational concepts in social hierarchy and use them synonymously following other works in IR (ibid).

  3. 3.

    See, for instance, Kim and Lee (2020); on why countries decided to join the AIIB, see, e.g., Wang (2018) and Knoerich and Urdinez (2019).

  4. 4.

    The AIIB Chief Negotiators decided not to include a precise formula in the AIIB Charter, as we detail later, but stated that relative share of the global economy in terms of GDP would determine capital stock allocations.

  5. 5.

    Multiple interviewees acknowledged to us that this ambiguity of the precise formula and variables used left some room for negotiation among the founding members.

  6. 6.

    As an example, China reduced its own formal power to satisfy the European countries’ joining, and these countries are also credited with playing a crucial role in inserting social and environmental safeguards into the AIIB, along the lines of existing institutions (e.g., Gabusi, 2019; Knoerich & Urdinez, 2019; Zhu, 2019).

  7. 7.

    Our citations do not provide an exhaustive list. Andersen et al. (2006) and Vreeland and Dreher (2014) also emphasize efforts to sway “swing states”.

  8. 8.

    While the literature broadly understands legitimacy as the acceptability of an institution, one can precisely define it as the intersubjectively granted right of an institution to govern (e.g., Buchanan & Keohane, 2006).

  9. 9.

    While the literature uses notions of status-quo and revisionism to discuss whether or not China aims to upend the US-led existing order, we do not adopt this terminology which remains US-centric (e.g., Johnston 2003; Layne, 2018; Schweller & Pu, 2011; Kastner & Saunders, 2012; for a critical perspective see Chan et al., 2019).

  10. 10.

    Anonymity and confidentiality facilitated our ability to gain more information through these interviews. The details of our interviews are provided in the online Appendix D.

  11. 11.

    Marking its significance, the actual distribution of formal power was subject to considerable debate in these institutions, with states being sensitive about their exact position vis-à-vis other countries (Gold, 1972), and subsequent redistributions have remained similarly contentious (Kaya 2015). For a general discussion of states’ concerns with their relative positions in institutions, see Lake (2013).

  12. 12.

    The alternate director position tends to be rotated among the remaining (i.e. those not taking about the executive director position on a rotation) members.

  13. 13.

    However, unlike in many IFIs, in the AIIB, the constituencies do not need to vote as a bloc; the Director leading the constituency can “split” the votes of its members. This reduces the importance of voting power in the AIIB relative to other IFIs, where the voting occurs as a bloc, such as the World Bank. Given this was known from the start, however, it influenced the formation of the constituencies in the first place, such as the Europeans grouping together.

  14. 14.

  15. 15.

    For Japanese influence over the ADB, see, e.g., Kilby (2006) and Lim and Vreeland (2013).

  16. 16.

    How much influence is considered as limited versus unhinged depends on who is perceiving it as well as the benchmarks used. We focus on the how of Chinese influence.

  17. 17.

    Some studies claim the existing order’s rules and oversight mechanisms constrain China (e.g., Cohen, 2015; Foot, 2006; Ikenberry, 2012).

  18. 18.

    Different mechanisms may be at work for different countries, as our qualitative discussions suggest.

  19. 19.

    While states may also care about normative resonance between its identity and the institution, this does not alter our discussion: joining when normative resonance is lower would mean higher costs. Additionally, states may be coerced into joining institutions, but this again does not modify the discussion here.

  20. 20.

    Why join despite the high costs? As the example of Japan shows, if the anticipated costs are too high vis-à-vis the expected benefits, countries do not join. However, access to development and infrastructure funds, in addition to influence in a new multilateral development setting, emerged as the two key reasons from our interviews in answering this question.

  21. 21.

    We multiply by 100 for ease of interpretation. We use GDP measured at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), as the institution appears to have done, but we also run alternative estimations with a different DV in robustness checks (Appendix F2).

  22. 22.

    A chief negotiator recalls that it was done on the request from Russia (Interviewee 7).

  23. 23.

    The literature on the BW institutions have long used UNGA voting data, where voting similarity is taken to indicate “donor strategic interests” and thus “political self-interests” (Alesina & Dollar, 2000, p. 37; Dreher & Fuchs, 2015, p. 1002, Nooruddin & Woo, 2015, p. 81). Hence, this similarity has commonly been used as a proxy of friendship between the most powerful country, the USA, and other countries.

  24. 24.

    When we substitute ideal point distance to China with ideal point distance to the USA, countries closer to the USA get larger REPRESENTATION as these two distances are highly and negatively correlated (around − 0.9),

  25. 25.

    Substituting GDP per capita with an ordinal measure based on the World Bank’s country categorizations (low-, middle-, high-income) also suggests as income increases, so does the country’s REPRESENTATION.

  26. 26.

    The results withstand the use of different voting measures at the UNGA (Appendix F1).

  27. 27.

    We use a combined index of freedom house measures and polity2, which ranges from 0–10 where 0 is least democratic and 10 most democratic. Hadenius and Teorell (2005) show that this index variable performs better than its parts, and it has wider data coverage. The correlation between the measure we use and its components is above 0.95.

  28. 28.

    This article is based on Chinese official sources from August 2015 and does not have any missing data (i.e. we are able to account for all countries in our sample). By this count there are 36 countries that were both BRI and AIIB members in 2015.

  29. 29.

    Using two-year averages for these variables or using the absolute (logged) level of exports/imports (t − 1) does not make them significant.

  30. 30.

    We use lagged logged oil and gas production value in 2014 dollars.

  31. 31.

    This does not change even if we fill in the missing variables, which are many, with values from the previous years.

  32. 32.

    Logging the DV does not alter the main results.

  33. 33.

    When a variable capturing membership to the EU is added to the baseline model, the EU variable is not significant. We find great variation across members of the EU: within this group, REPRESENTATION ranges from about 16 to approximately 109, which means they need to count as separate observations, as we do in the main models.

  34. 34.

    This sample consists of 182 IBRD members. 6 IBRD members (in addition to China) are not included in our analysis because of missing values for some independent variables.

  35. 35.

    We also tried an alternative instrument—physical distance between the country’s capital and Beijing. The correlation coefficient between our DV and this distance variable was 0.022 (p-value of 0.7967). Our primary results were unchanged (results available upon request).

  36. 36.

    Conditional on membership, the results on REPRESENTATION remain unaltered in an alternative two-part model with a probit in the first stage and OLS in the second stage (Cameron & Trivedi 2005, pp. 544–545). These probit on membership are similar: GDP per capita, being from the Asia–Pacific region, and IO membership are significant, but other variables are not. However, we also find in these probit models that the level of democracy is negatively related to membership: all else equal, more democratic countries are less likely to join the AIIB, which is line with Wang (2018).

  37. 37.

    We also tried to run a model with import and export share variables, but due to the relative small size of the sample, the model failed to converge. Given that import and export share variables never reach conventional statistical significance in Table 1, we believe their non-inclusion does not significantly alter our main findings reported in Table 2.

  38. 38.

    Some of our variables in previous models should already account for status.

  39. 39.

    Vieira (2018) shows that democratic regimes are less likely to join early, using one measure of timing (the equivalent of our Timing_MOU).

  40. 40.

    Making this a dummy variable, which marks countries that attended the first meeting as 0 and later meetings as 1, does not alter the main results.


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The authors acknowledge helpful comments from participants at the following conferences: Political Economy of International Organizations (2018), Pacific International Politics Conference (2019), and IDSS-KAIS Joint Conference (2019). Additionally, the authors acknowledge insightful comments from Christopher Kilby, Dan Honig, Songying Fang, Phillip Lipscy, James R. Vreeland, and thank Natalie Lichtenstein for an early conversation. Kaya is grateful to Bing Xin Tu for excellent research assistance. They are grateful to the reviewers and the editor.


Byungwon Woo’s research was supported by the Yonsei University Research Fund of 2019-22-0017.

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Research design and theory: A.K. (50%), B.W. (50%); interviews and statistical analysis: A.K. (50%), B.W. (50%); writing: A.K. (50%), B.W. (50%). The order of authors is chosen alphabetically.

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Correspondence to Byungwon Woo.

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Kaya, A., Woo, B. China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): Chinese Influence Over Membership Shares?. Rev Int Organ (2021).

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  • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
  • China
  • Influence
  • Membership
  • Shares
  • Multilateral Development Banks

JEL Classification

  • F35
  • N45
  • P48