Soft balancing against the US ‘pivot to Asia’: China’s geostrategic rationale for establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2017, 71 (6), pp. 568 - 590
Issue Date:
2017-11-02
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© 2017 Australian Institute of International Affairs. The existing accounts about the China-led multilateral development bank—the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—have focused on the USA’s policy concerns and the economic and commercial reasons for China having established it. Two deeper questions are left unaddressed: Was there any strategic rationale for China to initiate a new multilateral development bank and, if so, how effective is China’s strategy? From a neorealist balance-of-power perspective, this article argues that China has felt threatened by the Obama administration’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy. In response, China is opting for a soft-balancing policy to carve out a regional security space in Eurasia in order to mitigate the threat coming from its east. China’s material power, premised on the fact that the country is a huge domestic market and flush with cash, has proved irresistible for Asian states, with the exception of Japan, to be enticed away from the USA. On the one hand, this article adds weight to the claim that although the USA remains the pre-eminent military power in the Asia-Pacific, it has fallen into a relative decline in regional economic governance; on the other, China’s soft balancing has its own limitations in forming like-minded partnerships with, and offering security guarantees to, AIIB members. A China-led regional order is yet to have arrived, even with the AIIB.
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