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Bank's new leader shows changes of global order

Publication Date : 28-04-2012


By convention a US citizen has always led the World Bank since it was established in 1945. The appointment of Dr Jim Yong Kim as president on April 16 upholds this tradition.

US President Barack Obama immediately offered his congratulations after his nominee secured the job: "I am confident that Dr Kim will be an inclusive leader who will bring to the bank a passion for and deep knowledge of development, a commitment to sustained economic growth, and the ability to respond to complex challenges and seize new opportunities."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "I am delighted that the World Bank board of directors has selected Dr Jim Yong Kim to serve as president through a transparent and competitive process. Dr Kim is an excellent selection to lead the World Bank forward, build consensus with donor and borrowing countries, and encourage the increasingly important leadership role of developing countries."

Clinton further noticed that Kim has demonstrated a deep commitment to solving some of the most pressing challenges we face. "For over 25 years, he has worked to fight disease and hunger by pioneering innovative solutions and investing in people and communities," she said.

Kim had been expected to secure the position, as he had the backing of the US, Europe, Japan and Canada, which command the majority of votes, but this was the first time in the World Bank's history that the US candidate had faced a serious challenge.

Although the result of this election has not broken the convention that US nationals serve as leaders of the World Bank, Kim's appointment demonstrates that some profound changes have occurred in the global order since the onset of the West's financial and debt crises in 2008.

This was the first multicandidate presidential election in World Bank's history. There were three candidates for the job this time, including Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo, who withdrew at the last moment, calling the election a "politically oriented exercise".

Still, this was a meaningful beginning for candidates from developing countries and it is only a matter of time before a non-US national becomes president of the World Bank and a non-European becomes chairman of the International Monetary Fund.

"Our credible and merit-based challenge to a long-standing and unfair tradition will ensure the process of choosing a World Bank president will never be the same again. The hands of the clock cannot be turned back," said Okonjo-Iweala after her defeat.

Because of the rise of emerging economies and the challenges posed by developing counties, the US has relied more on "smart power diplomacy" since the onset of the financial crisis. It made a really careful choice when it nominated Kim for the position: His background as an expert in public healthcare and his Asian ancestry have reduced criticism of another US national holding the reins of the World Bank to some extent. For the first time instead of a financier, the World Bank is to be led by someone who has waged a global campaign for better health and social justice.

After winning the race, Kim was responsive to today's global economic changes. He reiterated the "new World Bank" will heed more voices from developing countries, respond to the diversified demands of all members and provide better research fruits to support sustainable development.

His comments in fact reflect the new global order that is taking shape. However, he will have to prove he has the experience, knowledge and ability to fulfill his commitments to developing countries as the new leader of the World Bank.

The author is a senior researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.


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