Japan is a late entrant in the African arena | By Dr Imran Khalid


Japan is a late entrant in the African arena

IN mid-August, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi surprised the world with string of announcements regarding the debt relief for African countries.

In addition to further enhancing food assistance to the continent, Wang committed to cancel the repayments of concessional loans that had reached maturity, but which 17 African states were unable to pay off.

In view of the growing murmurs about a looming debt crisis that threatens many developing countries, particularly in Africa, Wang’s announcement was very timely that would greatly help in muffling the propaganda being churned out by the United States and Japan about the Chinese debt trap.

Suddenly, out of the fear of being irretrievably outcompeted by China’s growing presence in Africa, two mantras are being loudly chanted by the Japanese leadership for the last several months: one, China has embarked upon a neo-colonialism in Africa through its ‘debt trap’ diplomacy, and two, Japan is shifting its focus from financial support to governments to business investment in the private sector in Africa.

But even a cursory appraisal of Japan’s current strategic outlook towards Africa would reveal that both the psalms are a kind of “hoax” to fuel the anti-China hype in the African Continent — apparently to appease the White House which is frantically working to bolster its containment strategy against China.

Two main geographical areas are being focused by the US policy maker to counter the Chinese influence; Indo-Pacific and Africa.

The problem with the Americans is that they are addicted to the self-created delusion about the depth of their strategic vision and operational capabilities.

They have not yet come out of the Cold War mentality. Be it China, Russia or any other “adversary”, they still see through the myopic lens of Cold War and ty to handle the global issues with an old-fashioned mindset.

Despite having the most advance technologies and propaganda apparatus, the thinking of the American policymakers is fossilized with hard layer of Cold War dust.

They did this mistake in the Indo-Pacific region, and now they are also repeating the same misstep in Africa.

The Americans are already very late in Africa, and they know this fact well. That’s why they are pushing Japan to be a “helping hand” to neutralize the Chinese factor in Africa.

The proceedings of the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in the last week of August in Tunis, attended by some 21 African heads of state and government and African Union as well as representatives from 48 African nation, clearly show that Japan is trying to lure the African countries through its generous financial assistance in different forms and wants to clearly differentiate itself from China through massive hoopla.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who could not attend the conference due to his positive COVID 19 test, addressed the inauguration session through video link and vowed that Japan will provide $30 billion in public and private investment and train 300,000 Africans over the next three years.

Two aspects of TICAD-8 makes it very different from all the previous events of this organization.

One, unlike most of its previous sessions in its 29-year history, it was arranged on the African Continent, second time only after TICAD 6 which was held in Nairobi in 2016.

This was a deliberate attempt by Prime Minister Kishida to keep the venue of the conference in Africa to emulate the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal last November and to give an indirect and symbolic message to the participants that the Japanese government is “respectful” towards the African nations.

The second feature of the conference, which was apparently supposed to focus on socio-economic problems of the continent only, was the issuance of a ‘political’ statement against Russia for its “aggression in Ukraine” that has led to the “far-reaching negative impacts” on Africa and the global economy.

Perhaps this was a big diplomatic success of Japan – and the United States – to include an anti-Russia statement in TICAD-8 declaration.

The lines are drawn clearly. The US-Japan duo is making direct and indirect efforts to push China out of Africa, certainly an outrageous idea, or at least to slow down China’s deepening partnerships in Africa.

Japan, which is a relatively a late entrant in Africa, is in no position to match China’s multi-billion-dollar investments and infrastructure development projects on the African continent.

The volume of China’s trade is more than$254 billion as well as huge investment in around 300 various developmental projects.

There are two fundamental differences between the Japanese model of assistance and the Chinese financial packages to Africa.

One, the Japanese aid is not “free” at all, it always comes with indirect strings attached in the form of obligatory procurement of equipment and goods from Japanese companies for these projects.

And two, while China prefers to finance entirely new infrastructure through concessional loans, Japan has focused more on the maintenance, upgradation, and improvement of existing infrastructure.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s ambitious global infrastructure project that is designed to connect China to neighbouring Asian countries and Europe through Africa.

Although at first Africa was marginal to the initiative, the BRI now plays is key factor in Chinese foreign policy on the continent.

There is no doubt that the initiative provides opportunities for African countries to develop infrastructure, it is interesting to note that China finances this infrastructure in the form of loans to African countries, which is being exploited by the Western countries that Beijing is trying to gain political and economic leverage over these countries.

But this argument seems losing steam, as more and more African countries are eager to be part of the BRI – compelling Japan to redefine its strategy and priorities in Africa vis-a-vis China.

—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.


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