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Ex-AIIB Comms Chief Says Was Advised to Flee China After Fiery Resignation

BEIJING (Reuters) – A senior employee of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) said on Thursday he was advised to flee the country after resigning from the bank in protest over what he alleged was Chinese Communist Party influence.

Bob Pickard, a Canadian national and former global communications chief for the AIIB, announced his resignation in a scathing social media post on Wednesday. Hours later Ottawa said it was freezing ties with the bank while it probed the allegations.

Established by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016 as a Chinese alternative to the World Bank and other Western-led multilateral lending institutions, AIIB has 106 members worldwide, including Canada, and says it is an “apolitical” lender.

“I high-tailed it out of there as soon as possible,” Pickard told Reuters in a phone interview, adding he fled to Japan after tendering his resignation earlier this week.

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“I’ve been advised not to set foot in China anytime soon. From a country where the two Michaels were kidnapped by the government, we’re maybe a little more sensitive or concerned about such things,” he said, referring to the high-profile case of two Canadians detained in China for nearly three years from 2018-2021.

He did not elaborate on who advised him to flee.

China’s embassy in Canada said late on Wednesday that Pickard’s statements were “lies”.

The AIIB earlier on Wednesday said it had accepted Pickard’s resignation and called his comments “baseless and disappointing. It did not respond to a further request for comment.

China’s foreign ministry and Canada’s embassy in China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘NOT IN CANADA’S INTERESTS’

Pickard said he did not believe the interests of Canada were served by the bank.

“I felt the power of the (Communist) Party people interfered with our ability to clearly and transparently communicate,” Pickard said, declining to name specific examples due to confidentiality agreements.

“I feel the taxpayers of my country should not be financing this organisation which in the end will be of more benefit to China than any benefit to Canada.”

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freedland on Wednesday said the country was freezing ties as it investigated the matter and did not rule out any outcome, a hint that Ottawa could pull out of a bank it officially joined in March 2018.

“The relevant person’s comments about AIIB are pure sensational hype and outright lies,” China’s embassy in Canada said in a statement on its website late Wednesday.

China is an important member of the AIIB and has always followed multilateral rules and procedures, the embassy said.

“Some countries frequently point fingers at others and make irresponsible remarks…This kind of behaviour is clearly ‘authoritarian’ behaviour,” the embassy added.

The clash marks a new dip in bilateral relations between Canada and China, which have been frosty for the last five years. Last month, China expelled a Canadian diplomat in Shanghai in a tit-for-tat move after Ottawa told a Toronto-based Chinese diplomat to leave, citing foreign interference.

Canada has accused China of trying to interfere in its affairs through various schemes, including illegal police stations and the targeting of lawmakers. Beijing denies all such allegations.

A public relations veteran, Pickard joined the AIIB in March 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Earlier this year, AIIB’s president said the bank would not get dragged into political disputes.

(Reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing; Editing by John Geddie and Lincoln Feast.)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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Nathan
Nathan

Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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