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Topic: Economy
Region: Africa
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Alexey Boguslavskiy

Political Analyst, RIAC Expert

The complicated relations between China and Japan, their disagreement in terms of   allegiance of the islands in the East China Sea, and Tokyo supporting the interests of the regional partners who oppose Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, are widely known facts. Having their own unsolved issues among themselves, African states stay aside from the Chinese-Japanese contradictions and prefer to gain profit from trade and economic cooperation with them and from their substantial financial backing. Nevertheless, it does not preclude the fact that Beijing and Tokyo are watchful in terms of each other’s activities in Africa, and though their weight categories are different (China’s trade index in African countries is 7-8 times higher than the one of Japan), their competition extends to the African continent. Although until recently such type of relationship in the African context was implied, it still was veiled and practically had no confirmation. In particular, the countries abstained from criticizing each other’s activities in the region, at least at high political level. This state of affairs changed in August 2016 resulting from the Japanese-African summit in Nairobi.  

S. Abe promised to provide USD 30 billion of state and private investment outlay for the development of African infrastructure, as a key factor for the development of the continent, in the upcoming three years. What is more, Japanese educational programs will involve up to 10 million people on the African continent.

Hua Chunying, the representative of PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during TICAD «Japan attempted to impose its will on African countries to gain selfish interests, and to drive a wedge between China and African countries».

The war of words between Japan and China in connection with the TICAD Summit in Nairobi demonstrated that these countries are not happy about each other’s increasing presence on the continent, and perceive it as a certain threat to their own interests.

Given that Japan already possesses a certain share in trade and economic cooperation with Africa, it is becoming more complicated to compete with China on a stand-alone basis. In this context, Japan is implementing measures to search for partners who operate in African markets while facing China’s pressure.

The complicated relations between China and Japan, their disagreement in terms of   allegiance of the islands in the East China Sea, and Tokyo supporting the interests of the regional partners who oppose Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, are widely known facts. Having their own unsolved issues among themselves, African states stay aside from the Chinese-Japanese contradictions and prefer to gain profit from trade and economic cooperation with them and from their substantial financial backing. Nevertheless, it does not preclude the fact that Beijing and Tokyo are watchful in terms of each other’s activities in Africa, and though their weight categories are different (China’s trade index in African countries is 7-8 times higher than the one of Japan), their competition extends to the African continent. Although until recently such type of relationship in the African context was implied, it still was veiled and practically had no confirmation. In particular, the countries abstained from criticizing each other’s activities in the region, at least at high political level. This state of affairs changed in August 2016 resulting from the Japanese-African summit in Nairobi.  

Background Information

The summit practice in the «Africa as a Major Regional/World Power» format has been there for a long time. And Japan was the first among other states without a colonial past on the continent to use such events in order to promote its interests. In 1993 Tokyo hosted an international conference on African development (TICAD), which had been organized in Japan every 5 years till 2013, while in 2016, three years after the Yokohama summit (TICAD-V), the conference was suddenly shifted to Africa. Beijing discovered this format only in 2000 (FORAC), having set a smaller, three-year, interval between the meetings, that are held in China and in African countries on a rotating basis.

The background for these two events naturally calls for an in-depth analysis. While the creation of FORAC at the turn of the 21st century was connected to the rapid development of Chinese-African cooperation, holding TICAD in Africa in 2016 was motivated by reasons of a different nature. Being far ahead of China in trade with Africa in the 1990s, Japan yielded the palm to China as early as the 2000s. Japan taking the back seat in the African context resulted not only from the objective factors, like the introduction of China, India, and other new active players, but also from a real decrease in Japanese-African trade in absolute terms — from USD 35 billion at the end of 2000s to USD 24 billion in 2015. This implies that Japan is losing the competition with these countries for the African market share. In this regard, the underlying motive for Tokyo in the inception of the first «African» TICAD is evidently the desire of the Japanese not to lose what they currently have in Africa and to try and restore the positions they used to have.

These ambitions became especially urgent in the years following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, when Japan had to consider conventional electricity sources. In this way Africa became especially attractive for the Japanese in terms of oil, gas, coal, and other natural wealth import opportunities. From this perspective, the current position of Japan towards Africa resembles the position of China at the end of 1990s, which was badly in need of new sources of mineral raw materials for its economy, and found them on the African continent. It is highly questionable if Tokyo will manage to duplicate this success.

Nairobi Summit

It is beyond argument that the Japanese-African Summit that was held in Nairobi on August 27-28, 2016, had been conceived by Tokyo to renew and promote its relations with the countries of the continent. At the same time, it wasn’t to become a new irritant in its relations with Beijing. Some days before the opening of the event, Yasuhisa Kawamura, representative of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that Africa is not considered by his country as a region for «competition and fight» with China. Their relations on the continent are more likely to be called «cooperative actions», serving the interests of African states. He also acknowledged that the experience of the PRC as one of the leading investors into Africa is being studied and used in Tokyo. Moreover, in response to the Japanese invitation, TICAD-VI was attended by Zhang Ming, the official representative of China, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of China to the Republic of Kenya in 2006-2009. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s speech at the Summit can be called a statement of policy, setting the vector for Japanese-African cooperation in the long-term perspective.

South China Morning Post

In terms of economy S. Abe promised to provide USD 30 billion of state and private investment outlay for the development of African infrastructure, as a key factor for the development of the continent, in the upcoming three years. He reminded that in the course of the previous TICAD summit in 2013, Japan incurred obligations to allocate USD 32 billion to Africa by 2018, so far they have performed 67% of the obligation. The PM also announced the launch of a new platform for cooperation of his country with Africa, namely the Japanese-African Economic Forum, taking place every three years and hosting government and business representatives from Japan and states in the region. Unlike TICAD with 5 out of 6 summits being held in Japan, such meetings are planned to be organized only in African states, which shows Tokyo’s intention to signal its readiness to take greater account of the «voice of Africa» and acknowledging its equal status in bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

In the social and humanitarian spheres Japan is going to help Africa to become «sustainable and stable», according to S. Abe, which will be possible only in case the expectations of its youth for education and decent work will be fulfilled. In particular, 50,000 Africans will receive professional training in the following three years with the encouragement from the Japanese side, at the same time, on the whole, Japanese educational programs will involve up to 10 million people on the African continent. The amount of money indicated by the Prime Minister and directed to Africa in the last 25 years as free «development assistance» is impressive —USD 47 billion, which makes Japan one of the five major donors to Africa.

The speech of the Japanese PM was filled with international agenda issues. His words that Africa must become a permanent member of the UN Security Council «no later» than 2023 were highly appreciated by the African participants of the meeting.

S. Abe associated the issues of Japan-Africa contacts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans with maritime law issues. He said that Japan would like to work with Africa in order to turn the seas connecting the two continents into peaceful waters under the rule of law. Similar ideas were stated in the concluding documents of the meeting — Nairobi Declaration and Nairobi Implementation Plan. They underscore the importance of the empowerment of maritime law by increasing the operative capacity of the institutions that provide the enforcement of the law.

Such wording is of particular importance to Asia. One cannot but notice the allusion to the decisions of the Hague Arbitral as of June 12, 2016, in the arbitration instituted by the Republic of the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China, when the tribunal declared Beijing’s claims for the disputed territories in South China Sea unfounded. China refused to abide the tribunal’s proceedings, while Japan having a similar dispute with the Celestial Empire in the East China Sea supported the court decision and encouraged other states in the region to comply with its provisions.

The outcomes of the Nairobi Summit were followed by Beijing’s immediate reaction. At a press conference on August 29, 2016, Hua Chunying, the representative of PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during TICAD «Japan attempted to impose its will on African countries to gain selfish interests, and to drive a wedge between China and African countries». She said that, to her knowledge, at the senior officials' meeting held before the TICAD summit, Japan went all out to direct the topic and outcome documents of the conference towards UN Security Council reform (China is against Japan’s permanent membership in UNSC) and maritime security issues, which deviated from African development.

REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Tatiana Deich, Vyacheslav Usov:
Africa – BRICS common ground

It cannot be ruled out that such harsh rhetoric from Chinese authorities resulted from S. Abe’s remarks suggesting Japan’s superiority in quality, invoking Africa to focus on higher quality standards. These words, according to some experts, should have reminded the Africans that Chinese business activities on the continent are not always treated positively by the residents in terms of quality of services, imported goods, and the use of local labour.   

***

The war of words between Japan and China in connection with the TICAD Summit in Nairobi demonstrated that these countries are not happy about each other’s increasing presence on the continent, and perceive it as a certain threat to their own interests.

Given that Japan already possesses a certain share in trade and economic cooperation with Africa, it is becoming more complicated to compete with China on a stand-alone basis. In this context, Japan is implementing measures to search for partners who operate in African markets while facing China’s pressure. February 2017 was marked by the declaration of Japanese-Indian cooperation, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) plans to promote partnerships between Japanese and Indian companies looking to expand their presence in Africa. Africa will only benefit from such a line-up of forces. The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister, Amina Mohammed, reportedly said a week before TICAD-VI that the rivalry between Japan and China allows Kenya to benefit from both sides because ‘if there is no competition, there is a problem, it simply allows us to choose the best’.

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