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Global financial reformers must heed Asia's clout

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In the face of such dramatic change, the IMF and World Bank are becoming relics of a bygone era. At the time of their creation, by US and European negotiators, the major challenge was to get capital flowing from the US to war-ravaged Europe. The days of the US as creditor state are long gone – our massive current account deficit is financed by importing nearly $1 trillion in foreign capital every year. Major US banks are being rescued by sovereign wealth funds and financial institutions from the Middle East and East Asia. China and Japan alone held over $600 billion of securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, making the bailout of those institutions a major foreign policy issue.

Despite these changed realities, both Bretton Woods institutions remain dominated by the West. By convention, the IMF is led by a European, the World Bank by a US national. The US is the only country with veto power over important decisions in either body.

My analysis of voting shares in the IMF indicates that the Allied powers of World War II have been consistently overrepresented compared to Axis powers despite the passing of more than 60 years since the end of that war. Studies show that IMF lending is biased in favor of recipients with strong economic and diplomatic ties to the US and key European states at the expense of other members.

This unbalanced representation had real consequences during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, when the IMF, as part of its rescue operation, implemented policies widely viewed as contrary to Asian interests. During the crisis, Japanese financial authorities proposed an Asian Monetary Fund as a potential alternative source of liquidity. This proposal was rejected by US officials, who feared dilution of IMF authority. However, over the past decade, East Asian states have stockpiled foreign currency reserves and developed regional cooperation that may eventually develop into a credible alternative to the IMF.

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