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Japan - Africa Relations

By 2050, one in four people on earth will be African. So the international community is paying close attention to Africa as a growing commercial battleground. And Japan is selling its brand as "high quality", over quantity. The question is whether or not African companies will wait around for that. African development is key to meeting the UN's sustainable development goals. Japan launched the first Tokyo International Conference on African Development [TICAD] in 1993, but now lags behind countries, including China, in terms of African investment.

Japan announced a myriad of commitments to Africa, including that it would double aid to the region by 2012, during the 28-30 May 2008 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Co-sponsored by the GOJ, the World Bank, and the UNDP, the conference brought together representatives from 51 of 53 African countries who stressed the importance of infrastructure in economic development, the continent's vulnerability to climate change, and the need to resolve the current food crisis in both the immediate and long term. In light of Japan's tight fiscal situation, however, the GOJ will likely need to make hard decisions on the allocation of its aid budget to fulfill the promises made at TICAD. The GOJ's fear of China's rising influence in Africa combined with its quest for a permanent seat on the UNSC may spur Japan's efforts to meet the doubling goal but not without potentially shrinking its footprint elsewhere in the world.

Japan's foreign ministry said 24 August 2019 the country's investment in Africa totaled more than 35 billion dollars over three years through 2018, achieving the goal set by the Japanese government. In 2016, Japan promised that the public and private sectors would invest about 30 billion dollars in Africa over three years. It made the pledge at a meeting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, or TICAD, held in Kenya. The Foreign Ministry said the Japanese government invested 10 billion dollars in Official Development Assistance while Japanese private firms made 25.6 billion dollars' worth of direct investment over the time period. The total stood at 35.6 billion dollars, surpassing the goal of 30 billion dollars.

The three-day conference attended by top leaders of more than 40 African countries concluded 30 August 2019 in Yokohama, Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Africa against accumulating too much debt. What was the target of Abe's words? Many believed he was trying to provoke disputes between Africa and China, as the latter's lending has been described by some in the West as "debt-trap diplomacy." While Abe warned Africa about debt, he encouraged Japanese investors to lend more to projects in Africa. According to the Japan Times, Abe on Wednesday pledged to aggressively promote private-sector investment in Africa, although he failed to set a new numerical target on funds to be funneled to the continent.

The "Yokohama Declaration" was adopted at the close of the conference. People on the ground will hopefully start to see private sector investments coming to fruition. Things like infrastructure projects, improvements to health care access and medical equipment, and more training opportunities for young Africans are all mentioned in this declaration. The document also made a veiled reference to China's lending practices on the continent. It pledges to strive towards an investment environment that is free, fair and transparent. That's something critics say China's initiatives are lacking.

Many Africans don't think Japan's actions are keeping up with the quick pace of African growth. A Nigerian entrepreneur said, "Chinese people are taking over almost everything. I think it is just cool for Japanese government or private corporations to key or tap into now before it is too late." A Moroccan entrepreneur said, "Japan has a long-term vision, but they are lost in short vision market.

China is a key factor in Japan's Africa policy. This may explain why there is an inherent contradiction in Abe's words. He warned about debt because he wants to reduce China's business presence in Africa, but he is also trying to increase Japan's influence by lending more to the continent. Japan's policy on Africa may make the continent a new strategic tool of geopolitical competition with China.

Abe said that he hoped to cooperate with African countries to safeguard the Indo-Pacific, which connects Africa and Japan, according to the Japan Times. It seemed Japan is not only a supporter of the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, but it also wanted to play an important role in the strategy, or even replace US leadership and take the helm, pushing it forward in line with Japan's own national interests.

China is always glad to see Africa building diversified cooperation partnerships with different countries including Japan. China hoped Africa's economic cooperation with China and Japan can be complementary. However, Japan's policy makes that less likely. Japan's strategy has a tendency to contain China. China was unlikely to turn a blind eye to Japan's implicit hostility. If Japan deliberately adopted a strategy to counter China's influence, this might work against the interests of Africa and harm regional cooperation.

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Page last modified: 04-09-2019 19:14:47 ZULU