TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a letter of application for Israel to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. More than 40 countries, including Australia, South Korea, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, have said they would sign up to the AIIB, with Japan and the United States the two notable absentees. China set a March 31 deadline to become a founding member of the AIIB, an institution that could enhance Beijing's regional and global influence. Washington initially tried to dissuade its allies from joining the AIIB, seeing it as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank over which the U.S. exerts considerable influence, but changed tack after many signed up for it. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Tuesday that Washington would welcome the AIIB as long as it complements existing institutions and adopts high governance standards. In a statement on its website, the Foreign Ministry said Israel's AIIB membership would open up opportunities to integrate Israeli companies into infrastructure projects it financed. Israeli companies are increasingly turning to Asia to capture a boom in demand for their technology, as the government urges them to diversify export markets in response to Europe's rising anti-Semitism and potential trade sanctions. The new bank plans to invest $100 billion in infrastructure projects in Asian countries. Half of that amount has already been budgeted by China. (Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Tom Heneghan)
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