24 October 2016
If the AIIB accepts only sovereign entities, Hong Kong cannot join it except under China's membership. Photo: Bloomberg
If the AIIB accepts only sovereign entities, Hong Kong cannot join it except under China's membership. Photo: Bloomberg

How can HK get into China-led AIIB?

One of the hottest issues in recent weeks is a proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) led by China.

This has important implications for Hong Kong and the mainland.

Under “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has the right to join international bodies, one of the few advantages of its status as a special administrative region of China.

Meanwhile, China can use Hong Kong’s vote in the AIIB, assuming it becomes a member.

How will Hong Kong go about becoming an AIIB member?

The membership structure of the AIIB is still unclear but there are at least three possibilities for Hong Kong.

If the AIIB follows the APEC model which accepts individual economies (or member economies), Hong Kong should be able to join as “Hong Kong, China”.

This has been the usual way Hong Kong participates in international organizations.

However, in the past decade, China has been complaining about such arrangement that treats Hong Kong as “equal” to a sovereign state.

Also, Beijing is worried Taiwan could exploit the system to develop its diplomatic relations.

So, it’s doubtful the AIIB will adopt this approach.

Another way is for the AIIB to accept only sovereign entities similar to the practice of the World Health Organization.

In this case, Hong Kong cannot join the AIIB as an individual member but only under China’s membership.

But if the AIIB only allows sovereign states, that will not be in China’s best interests.

Apart from places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Guam, international organizations are classified as non-sovereign states.

Limiting the members to sovereigns will restrict China’s diplomatic flexibility because countries that wish to join the AIIB but do not want to show defiance of the United States can do so through an international organization. 

A third possibility is the use of two membership classes — one for sovereigns and the other for non-sovereigns.

This surely will be acceptable to Hong Kong, but for Taiwan, it depends on the Taipei government and public opinion.

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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