• Kyodo

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The idea of Japan joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is finding renewed enthusiasm within the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sources have said.

The idea has advocates within the Prime Minister’s Office and the trade ministry, and is backed by Toshihiro Nikai, the pro-China secretary-general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

But a senior official at the Foreign Ministry dismissed the idea, saying “we’re not considering participating.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga spoke dispassionately about the new bank Friday when asked about the option.

“We hope the AIIB will play a role as an entity that contributes to sustainable development in the region,” the top government spokesman told a news conference.

“There has been no change to our position that we will carefully observe the AIIB’s operations to see whether it has established fair governance, and whether it is ensuring debt sustainability for its member countries and giving consideration to its environmental and societal influence,” Suga said.

Although Nikai is effectively the LDP’s second-in-command, his clout alone is unlikely to result in Japan’s participation in the bank.

While Japan’s relations with China could improve if it were to join the 70-member AIIB, the bank is seen by some as a rival to the decades-older Asian Development Bank, of which Japan and the United States are the main backers.

An about-face on the AIIB would call into question the consistency of the government, which has so far cited a lack of transparency in the bank’s organizational operations as a reason for not joining.

Nikai told a Hong Kong television program late last month there is “a possibility” of Japan joining the AIIB.

He said the time has come for Japan to give a clear answer as to whether it will join the bank, and vowed full support for China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative that the AIIB is to help finance.

Nikai is set to attend a One Belt, One Road-themed international economic forum in Beijing starting Sunday. He said before leaving Japan that he plans to deliver a letter from Abe directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The idea of Japan joining the AIIB first emerged within the government in the spring of 2015, before the bank was formally launched in December 2015.

Japan and the United States subsequently announced they would not be joining, but the idea has seen a resurgence since March, when the number of members in the AIIB overtook that of the ADB, which has 67 members.

“The AIIB is lacking in development investment know-how,” a high-ranking Japanese government official said. “It could be that (the bank) is seeking Japan’s experience and skills.”

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