Japan is the latest country to try to increase engagement with Africa amid China’s massive influence on the continent and perceived threats to the international order.
This year has been sparked by a flurry of visits to the continent by top officials including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European diplomats. Many analysts see the visits of Western leaders as an attempt to counter Beijing’s clout and to some extent Russian influence.
Last month, Japan sought to provide African countries with options for Chinese lending and investment, pledging to spend $30 billion on the continent and pushing for a focus on training African professionals, food production and green development .
The pledge was made during the 8th Tokyo International African Development Conference (TICAD) held in Tunisia.
In his remarks at the event, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized Moscow and took an outright dig at China.
“It is true that a range of contradictions in the global economy, such as inequality and environmental problems, are concentrated in Africa at the moment. In addition, we are urgently confronted by issues such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the food crisis caused by unfair and opaque development finance. needs to be dealt with. They said,
Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic Affairs, who has attended two TICAD conferences, said the reference to “opaque” development finance was “certainly a rebuke to China”, on which “debt” accused of practicing Trap diplomacy” – giving huge debts to countries that cannot pay to gain political mileage.
During TICAD, Japan also announced that some $1 billion would go toward support for debt restructuring of African countries and promised that Japan “willing to be a partner together with Africa.”
While there is growing consensus among economists that the debt-trap allegations do not stand, it is still a common criticism made by the West and its allies and angers Beijing. very Articles in Chinese state media rejected Kishida’s remarks as a smear campaign and said that Japan’s investment pledge had “selfish motives”.
state publication Global Times Said, while China has no problem with aid being provided by other countries to African countries, “what China opposes is a vicious attempt to defame China by Western countries, including the US and Japan, in which African countries China has been asked to “beware” at every turn.”
“African countries have their own decisions and do not need the West to teach them what to do,” Global Times Quoting Yang Ziyu, Researchers from the China Institute of International Studies say.
The amount Japan pledged to TICAD this year was less than China’s promise of $40 billion last year China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) in Senegal.
“I think lately, Japan has certainly been trying to strengthen its engagement in Africa and obviously … China is a strategic rival to Japan,” Nantulaya said. “As far as Japan’s latest push into Africa is concerned, there is an element of competition.”
Akitoshi Miyashita, an international relations professor at Tokyo International University, echoed this view.
“The recent TICAD conference was regarded by Tokyo as an important means to regain Japan’s presence in Africa in light of China’s growing influence in the region. In that sense, Japan’s ODA in Africa (Official development aid) has clear political objectives,” he told Granthshala.
However, he said, Japan is “losing an aid competition with China” because with a large national debt and a shrinking economy, Japan cannot provide Africa with the amount that China can. Japan also cannot provide aid to countries accused of serious corruption and human rights violations, while China’s loans are no binding – and are favored by some African countries.
Philip Olayoku, a Nigerian academic and member of the African Association of Japanese Studies, said he doesn’t think Tokyo is trying to compete with China in Africa because it simply can’t and “doesn’t have the kind of dominance it has.” used to be. .”
Instead, he said, Japan is trying to “strengthen its ties, to keep part of what it has, so that China doesn’t displace it.”
While FOCAC and TICAD are similar, analysts told Granthshala that there are several key differences, namely that the Chinese model involves the Chinese state cooperating directly with African ruling parties, while the Japanese one is more multilateral, consisting of civil society, non-governmental organizations, and non-state actors. government organizations and international organizations. United Nations Development Program and African Development Bank.
Shinichi Takeuchi, director of the Center for African Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Affairs, said, “China’s aid to Africa tends to focus on areas such as infrastructure and agriculture, but Japan’s ODA covers a wide range of development areas, including human development issues. does.” Studies.
Additionally, Japan seeks to transfer knowledge and contribute to African self-reliance and has a post-war agenda to help advance peace and democracy, analysts said. However, he noted that Japan also has an economic agenda, which includes trying to secure markets for its high-end products.
“It seeks to boost the activities of Japanese businesses in Africa. As Japan is facing several socio-economic challenges including economic stagnation and [an] With a growing population, the government wants to take advantage of the economic opportunities in Africa,” Takeuchi said.
Analysts said Tokyo also has a political agenda in Africa. Japan is pursuing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and China is its strong rival, Takeuchi reported. Additionally, African countries have the largest polling stations in the United Nations, Nantulya said.
Tokyo is also concerned that African countries may favor China – as it already did over Ukraine – and against its interests in regions such as the western Pacific where the two are in dispute over ownership of the Senkaku Islands.
“The Japanese are certainly concerned that African countries will be mobilized to support Chinese moves, to support Chinese strategic positions on issues … and this is one of the reasons why this current TICAD … really really African The focus is on reuniting the countries diplomatically,” Nantulaya said.
Asked whether Japan’s $30 billion commitment to Africa could be seen as an attempt to compete with China, Mary Hidaka, counselor at the Japanese embassy in South Africa, replied, “Nowadays, there are many such There are forums through which many countries engage with Africa, but TICAD initiated by Japan was the forerunner of such forums for African development.
“The $30 billion as a sum of public and private financial contributions, which Japan announced during the TICAD 8 held last month in Tunis, focuses on the quality of investment and development in people and a flexible approach while solving various problems. And aims for a sustainable Africa. by the African people,” she said.