In response to China’s initiatives, Japan resumes courting Africa


TOKYO: The eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development was held in Tunisia last week, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged that Japan would “help Africa urgently tackle issues such as unfair and opaque development finance”.
Observers see this as an apparent crackdown on China’s lending practices, with Japan and other members of the Group of Seven criticizing the nations for placing them in a “debt trap”.

To shift blame and responsibility, the United States and some other Western countries have created a “so-called Chinese debt trap”, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Former Liberian Public Works Minister W. Guid Moore said Kishida’s statement to TICAD seemed to compare Japan’s lending policy with others.
It is clear that China is the “other” in this position because Japan generally cooperates with the West, according to Moore.
Kishida told TICAD via video link that Japan would invest billions of dollars in the continent and train thousands of African professionals in a bid to counter China’s growing influence there.
TICAD, which meets every three years, was never meant to be a rival to China.

In fact, before China became a major player, Japan spent billions of dollars building roads, power plants and ports on the mainland.

To increase trade with Africa and gain access to markets for its industries as well as raw materials for its industries, Japan established TICAD in 1993.
But from 1991 to 2001, Japan suffered an unprecedented recession known as the “lost decade” and it reduced its development funding to foreign investment to focus on reviving its economy.
At the turn of the millennium, China began to expand into overseas markets, encouraging public and private companies to do the same. In addition, Beijing launched a competitive conference in 2000 called the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which meets every three years.

Under its Transcontinental Belt and Road initiative, China has since become Africa’s largest trading partner and a major financier of infrastructure projects, including ports, railways, highways and dams.
Japan recently announced $30 billion in public and private financial contributions over the next three years in an aggressive effort to regain its economic and diplomatic influence in Africa and challenge China’s position.

Observers call Tokyo’s plan to train 300,000 Africans as a future force to lead African economies a “quick win” for Japan. Before COVID-19, China educated and trained more African professionals than any other country. These events have not been held since.
Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, says China offered 10,000 scholarships and training opportunities at its 2021 FOCAC summit, compared to 100 000 offered in 2019. There is a shortage.

The Japanese pledge is less than $10 billion of the $40 billion pledged by FOCAC in 2021, but this amount represents a significant reduction from the $60 billion pledged by China for various projects, including infrastructure, during the 2018 FOCAC cycle.
According to Nantulya, “It is safe to say that Japan is stepping up its game in response to FOCAC wins in Africa.

According to Nantulya, the Japanese model of engagement in Africa is fundamentally based on openness, local ownership, co-financing, low debt and high quality public works.
According to him, China has mainly prioritized the financing and development of greenfield infrastructure through concessional loans, while Japan has focused more on the maintenance, upgrading and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.
Much of Japan’s financial and technical assistance to Africa has gone through organizations such as the African Development Bank.

By contrast, Nantulya said, “China works more closely with individual governments, especially through the executive branch, and provides the majority, if not all, of the debt financing.”

According to him, most Japanese projects are carried out through co-financing and co-partnership, with the African private sector and even civil society playing an important role.
According to Nantulya, at the eighth FOCAC summit in November, China recently made a strategic push towards private sector participation.
The bottom-up demand from African actors, who often see China-Africa cooperation as being limited to governments and ruling elites, has led to this, according to the expert, he continued. In terms of strategic security, Nantulya said that during TICAD 6 in Nairobi in 2016, Africa was included in Japan’s “Vision for a Free Indo-Pacific”. He said it was a response to the growing Belt and Road Initiative in China.

Much earlier, Japan set up a military base in Djibouti in 2011, six years before China opened its base there, and began deploying counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia in 2009, a year after that China had supported the fight against piracy. began sending troops into piracy action in the Gulf of Aden.

According to Nantulya, Japan is also participating in the G7’s “Building a Better World” initiative, which was promoted by the United States in response to China’s funding of the Belt and Road.

According to Moore, who currently works for the Center for Global Development, Africa can appreciate Japan’s emphasis on human capital development.

Moore said “Africa’s young and rapidly growing population faces significant challenges, particularly high unemployment.” “The continent needs a Japanese aid program that focuses on improving health and education outcomes.”

Many African leaders will be pleased with the scale of the three-year commitment because Japan has a reputation for skill and quality in its projects.

Kweku Ampia, professor of Japanese studies at the University of Leeds in the UK, wondered if the $30 billion commitment would be enough to attract Japanese private sector investment in Africa.

For example, he cited the Japan Association of Business Executives’ assessment of Japan’s prior commitments from 2016 and 2019. Empia claimed that as a result, Japanese investment in Africa increased from $12 billion in 2013 to $4.8 billion in 2020.

In an email interview, Empia said, “I don’t think things are going to be any different over the next three years.” Compared to TICAD 6 (2016) and TICAD 7 (2019), “TICAD 8 (2022) was more of a platform for projecting Japan’s position on current global issues.”

Celine Pajon, head of Japanese research at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, said Japan separates its development debt from China by emphasizing the quality of aid rather than the quantity.

In this time of several crises, according to Pajone, Japan is returning to its original approach in its relations with Africa. According to Pajone, the pandemic has brought to light two fundamental tenets of Tokyo’s development assistance policy: human security and human-centered development. This allowed Japan to express its longstanding commitment to the health regime.

According to Pajone, “Japan’s long-standing plan to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and to offer two seats to Africa” ​​has been revived by the conflict in Ukraine and the ineffectiveness of the ‘UN. .

In June, five countries were chosen to hold two non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for 2023 and 2024, including Japan. Kishida informed TICAD that Japan would use its influence to advocate for an African seat on the UN Security Council.

According to Pajone, Japan was increasing its investments in decarbonization, green energy and promising African start-ups as a way to increase private contributions to the continent.

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