Tuesday, December 18, 2007

China sees rising World Bank influence

China is starting to play a bigger role in the World Bank and can be an important partner in helping development in places such as Africa as it becomes an aid giver instead of an aid recipient, the bank's president said Tuesday.

Robert Zoellick said he welcomed the news that China, which once received grants from the World Bank's International Development Association, is now a contributor to it.

That included a contribution at a recent meeting of the IDA, which provides grants and loans to the world's poorest countries.

"This is an example of China being a stakeholder in the field of development," Zoellick told a news conference at the end of a four-day visit. The undisclosed amount was a "modest but also significant step," he said.

China stopped taking loans from the IDA in 1999 after having received more than $9.9 billion, but last week was the first time it had agreed to contribute.

Zoellick - a former U.S. deputy secretary of state and trade representative - had pushed during his time in government for China to take a bigger role in the international community as its economy grew.

He continued that in his visit with meetings with Li Ruogu, chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China, which invests heavily overseas, and talked of planned joint projects in Africa.

Although China has fewer voting shares in the bank than some developed countries, it still has an "influential" voice, he said. The bank is also recruiting Chinese staff, including senior staff, Zoellick said.

China has been criticized for its lending practices in Africa because it often attaches few conditions to its loans, such as commitments on human rights or development. It has also been accused of using only Chinese labor for its infrastructure projects there.

Zoellick said he discussed debt sustainability with Chinese officials because of worries some of the poorest countries would never be able to pay back their loans.

"Many developed countries have forgiven the debt of some of the poorest countries and so there's a legitimate concern about building that debt up again," he said.


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