In a major turn of events at the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Canadian official Bob Pickard fled Beijing for Japan citing a toxic culture at the bank on Wednesday. Pickard, who worked as the director-general for communications at the AIIB, said he flew to Tokyo after resigning from the bank fearing for his safety.
In a scathing attack on China and also the working of the bank, Pickard said that the bank is dominated by the Communist Party of China (CPC) members. In a tweet he said: “I have tendered my resignation as the global comms chief of @AIIB_Official. As a patriotic Canadian, this was my only course. The Bank is dominated by Communist Party members and also has one of the most toxic cultures imaginable. I don’t believe that my country’s interests are served by its AIIB membership”.
In another set of damaging allegations, Pickard tweeted: “All I can say is that AIIB has one of the most toxic cultures one can possibly imagine. Western publics are not being served by their membership in AIIB. I saw with my own eyes the extent to which Communist Party hacks occupy key positions in the bank, like an in-house KGB or Gestapo or Stazi”. Calling the bank a “cesspool”, he also advised his government to not be a part of the AIIB.
All I can say is that AIIB has one of the most toxic cultures one can possibly imagine. Western publics are not being served by their membership in AIIB. I saw with my own eyes the extent to which Communist Party hacks occupy key positions in the bank, like an in-house KGB or…
— Bob Pickard (@BobPickard) June 14, 2023
Pickard’s resignation coupled with his scathing remarks about the AIIB, also called ‘China’s World Bank’, triggered an immediate response from the Canadian government.
Chrystia Freeland, Canadian Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said that her country will freeze ties with the AIIB and will also launch a probe into allegations that the bank is dominated by the CPC. Canada’s CBC quoted Freeland as saying: “The Government of Canada will immediately halt all government-led activity at the bank. And I have instructed the Department of Finance to lead an immediate review of the allegations raised and of Canada’s involvement in the AIIB”.
Meanwhile, AIIB, which accepted Pickard’s resignation, issued a series of statements on its website after the controversy broke out on Wednesday.
In one its latest statements, the bank said that it “welcomes the review announced by Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and AIIB Governor, Ms. Chrystia Freeland, into the baseless allegations made by Mr. Bob Pickard, AIIB’s former Director General of Communications, following the announcement of his resignation yesterday”.
It also said that the bank too will be “conducting its own internal review of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Bob Pickard and the allegations he has made”.
In a previous statement issued on Wednesday, the bank had said that it supported Pickard throughout his time at the bank and empowered him to perform his role, adding that, “Mr. Pickard’s recent public comments and characterization of the Bank are baseless and disappointing. We are proud of our multilateral mission and have a diverse international team representing 65 different nationalities and members at AIIB, serving our 106 members worldwide, many of whom have been with us since our formation in 2016…”
The AIIB is a multilateral bank, much on the lines of the World Bank, which says it helps, “clients to build Infrastructure for Tomorrow (i4t)—green infrastructure with sustainability, innovation and connectivity at its core”. Though focused on Asia, the AIIB has members from across the world.
Diplomatic relations between the two nations have been frosty since December 2018 after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on a request by the US. In retaliation, China arrested two Canadian nationals, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, on charges of espionage. In 2021, the two nations eventually swapped their prisoners and ended the impasse.
It is not just a Canada-China spat.
Relations between the Western nations and Beijing have been slipping steadily over the past few years. Former US president Donald Trump had given the clarion call to view China as a competitor and a threat. Most of Trump’s ideas about China were carried forward by his successor President Joe Biden. Relations between the two biggest economies have nosedived over trade deficit, spying charges, threats to Taiwan and the human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.