Underscoring its growing global heft, China launched an infrastructure bank for Asia on Monday, receiving the backing of 50 countries for an initiative that seeks to boost the region's economy but also put Beijing at the center of its ­development.

Representatives from Britain, Germany, South Korea and Australia were among those who took part in a ­ceremony to sign the articles of ­association in the Great Hall of the People, with the United States and Japan the most notable ­absentees.

Many U.S. allies joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) on Monday — despite Washington's initial objections — in what was seen as a major diplomatic victory for President Xi Jinping.

It also was a landmark event in Xi's bid to extend China's reach across Asia and shape an international global financial order that better reflects Beijing's interests.

"China's development would not have been possible without Asia and the world," Xi told delegates. "As China grows stronger, we are willing to make our due contribution to world ­development."

Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said Monday's ceremony was "a first step in an epic journey," meant to deepen regional cooperation, boost Asia's infrastructure and support the global economic recovery.

"More hard work lies ahead in our quest to build the AIIB into an international financial institution embodying the highest standards," he wrote in an op-ed late last week.

At the ceremony, he said he was confident it would begin operating before the end of the year.

Washington post