Japan’s Africa charm offensive leaves no doubt China is in its crosshairs

Sunday September 1 2019

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, AU

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, AU chairperson and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and UN Secretary-General António Guterres pose for a photo with other African leaders during the TICAD 7 Conference in Yokohama. PHOTO | URUGWIRO  

By AGGREY MUTAMBO

The Japanese government is pledging to support Africa’s integration programmes, targeting to help strengthen regulatory institutions in what Tokyo says could “level the field” of trade.

At the end of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) in Yokohama, Japan offered to support a series of programmes that could elevate African countries’ governance and connectivity.

“We welcome the AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Area) and the prospects it offers for deepening regional integration and enlarging markets, promoting trade facilitation, transforming agriculture and developing value chains, said a declaration on Friday.

“We commit to supporting the full implementation of the AfCFTA through measures that concretely link the African private sector with its counterparts in Japan, in order to achieve this objective.”

The AfCFTA is the continental treaty of 2018 meant to improve intra-Africa trade from the current 14 per cent to at least 50 per cent by 2022.

But the treaty will require African countries to diversify their produces, improve road networks and silence violence at least in five years.

Advertisement

Japan said it recognised the need for that diversification and industrialisation “as well as macro-economic stability, in achieving inclusive and sustainable growth.”

Tough competition

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had promised what he called a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, promising that Japanese financial institutions were willing to insure Africa’s trading transactions with Tokyo.

The conference, the 7th since 1993, is Japan’s formal platform to engage Africa. And though Japan became the first developed country to introduce summit meetings with Africa, it currently faces tough competition from the Chinese.

In Yokohama, 42 African heads of state and representatives from 11 other African countries attended, according to the Japanese Prime Minister’s office. They adopted a theme to focus on “People, Technology and Innovation.”

Mr Abe fronted the idea of the rule of law, and quality infrastructure, a phrase he had used before during the sixth Ticad summit in Nairobi three years ago.

Japan and Africa, the dispatch said, recognise the importance of co-operating on issues such as quality infrastructure, private sector impact investment and macroeconomic stability.

Technological innovation industrialisation, training for skills, as well as climate change adaptation were cited as key for human development in Africa.

The Yokohama Declaration

“We acknowledge the importance of effective institutions in upholding universal values such as fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and good governance, broadening democratic participation, bridging the urban-rural divide, closing the digital-gender gap, improving market access and giving voice to hitherto disadvantaged communities,” the dispatch formally known as the Yokohama Declaration stated.

Japan said it was investing in African countries to improve services offered by governments, expand crime prevention, combat gender-based violence, and empower vulnerable communities, especially women and youth.

But while it offered to invest through private firms, Japan was essentially fronting an alternative to China’s engagement in Africa.

Ticad had always played second fiddle to China’s similar conference known as Forum on China-Africa Co-operation.

At the Summit in Beijing last December, China offered $60 billion worth of investments into Africa, and they included grants and loans through financial institutions.

China also bought goods worth $70 billion from Africa in 2017, according to Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

President Xi Jinping said they were focusing on industrial promotion, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, training, health, people-to-people exchanges and peace and security.

‘Five-Nos’

Yet, unlike Japan, China indicated none of the monies will come attached with political strings. Known as the ‘Five-Nos’, Beijing said each African country will develop at own pace, Beijing will not interfere in internal affairs, and that China will not seek “selfish” political gains in Africa.

In Yokohama, Japanese officials did not directly point at China, indicating Ticad will be guided by Africa’s development dynamics and priorities but seemed to counter Beijing’s programmes.

Japan, Mr Abe said, will be active in ensuring peace and security in Africa, will work for equitable access to information through ICT and work to support open borders.

“Enhancing governance, combatting transnational organised crime, illicit financial flows and corruption, promoting peace-building, and countering illegal wildlife trade, terrorism and violent extremism are also issues of global priority. We commit to working individually and collectively to addressing these issues as urgent challenges.”

But, in the long-term, Japan admitted to seeking Africa’s hand to reform the UN Security Council, seen as targeting China which is a permanent member of the Council.

As in 2016 in Nairobi, Mr Abe said he is seeking Africa’s hand in addressing all the five key issues including the question of the veto.

Africa has sought at least two permanent seats on the Council with the right of veto as well as five more Non-permanent seats.

However, many of the efforts to reform the Council will need support from the current permanent members: the UK, the US, Russia, France and China.