Chile and Bolivia were among the seven new members approved to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) on Saturday, a day before China’s biggest diplomatic event of the year kicks off.
The bank’s president Jin Liqun announced the new members in a joint press conference with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
"Better infrastructure across Asia will allow Chilean goods to access new markets, more investment in Chilean infrastructure in turn will further bind together the two great continents of Asia and Latin America," said Jin.
The other five new members are Bahrain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Samoa, bringing the bank's total membership to 77 countries.
President Bachelet and Argentina President Mauricio Macri will join other leaders from 27 countries to attend the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing on Sunday and Monday.
Delegations from around the world will attend, including the United States and North Korea.
The two-day forum is dedicated to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project, the Belt and Road Initiative, also known as “One Belt, One Road.” It aimed at rebuilding the ancient trading routes from China to Europe overland and by sea, officially refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.
The project is expected to expand links between Asia, Africa and Europe with billions of dollars in infrastructure investment along the routes. The AIIB is launched as part of the initiative to providing finance to address the infrastructure needs across Asia.
"We think there are a lot of projects that can link Asia with or through Latin America," Bachelet said, adding that she had spoken with Jin about the possibility of investing in a Trans-Pacific optic fiber cable to improve digital connectivity between Asia and Latin America.
“The cable could be considered a part of the 'One Belt, One Road Initiative' and transform the Pacific Ocean into a bridge between our regions," she added.
Other investments could include tunnels and highways across the Andes Mountains and ports to link Latin America and South America to Asia, Bachelet added.
Currently Latin America is not included in the official initiative, but China says the initiative is “an open and inclusive one” and welcomes all countries to participate.
“This is an open and inclusive plan rather than a selfish strategy to serve China's own interests at the expense of others,” China’s Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Friday. “China has kicked off the initiative, and it is now up to others to play the game.”
As the Belt and Road puts international connectivity and infrastructure development at its core, South America should make the most of it, Chile’s ambassador to China Jorge Heine said in a recent column on China's Global Times newspaper.
“For South American countries, poised to make the big leap toward being fully developed nations, but not quite there yet, their association with Asia represents the best hope to make that happen,” Heine said.
China is currently the largest trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Peru. Latin America mostly export primary goods and natural resources to China, such as copper, iron, oil and soybeans.
In 2015, Xi had pledged to double bilateral trade between China and Latin America to $500 billion and increase investment to $250 billion over the next decade.