November 30, 2023

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The former head of communications at AIIB said he was advised to flee China after a fiery resignation

The former head of communications at AIIB said he was advised to flee China after a fiery resignation

BEIJING, June 15 (Reuters) – A senior employee of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said on Thursday he was advised to flee the country after he quit the bank in protest at alleged influence by the Chinese Communist Party.

Bob Picard, a Canadian citizen and former head of global communications at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, announced his resignation in a scathing social media post on Wednesday. Hours later, Ottawa said it had frozen relations with the bank while it investigated the allegations.

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

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

“I have been advised not to enter China any time soon. From a country where Michaels has been kidnapped by the government, we may be more sensitive or concerned about such things,” he said, referring to Euphoria. Profiles 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 Wednesday that Picard’s remarks were “lies”.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said earlier on Wednesday that it had accepted Picard’s resignation and called his remarks “unfounded and disappointing.” It did not respond to a further request for comment.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Canadian Embassy in China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Not in Canada’s interest.

Picard said he did not believe the bank served Canada’s interests.

“I felt that the power of the (Communist) party was interfering with our ability to communicate clearly and transparently,” Picard said, declining to cite specific examples due to confidentiality agreements.

“I feel that my country’s taxpayers should not fund this organization which will ultimately be more beneficial to China than any benefit to Canada.”

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Friedland said on Wednesday that the country had frozen ties while it investigated the matter and had not ruled out any outcome, hinting that Ottawa could pull out of a bank it formally joined in March 2018.

“The person concerned’s comments about the AIIB are just sensationalist propaganda and outright lies,” China’s embassy in Canada said in a statement on its website late Wednesday.

The embassy said China is an important member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and has always followed multilateral rules and procedures.

The embassy added, “Some countries often point fingers at other countries and make irresponsible statements… This kind of behavior is clearly ‘tyrannical’ behavior.”

The clash marks a new low in bilateral relations between Canada and China, which have been frosty over the past 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 targeting lawmakers. Beijing denies all of these allegations.

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A public relations veteran, Picard joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in March 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Earlier this year, the head of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said the bank would not be drawn into political wrangling.

(Reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing); Edited by John Jedi and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Lori Chen

Thomson Reuters

Laurie Chen is China correspondent for Reuters in Beijing, covering politics and general news. Prior to joining Reuters, she reported on China for six years at Agence France-Presse and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. She speaks Mandarin fluently.