Improving assistance operations is an important issue

Japan has been able to maintain a certain degree of influence in the international community due in large part to the support it provides to emerging countries through official development assistance. With the ODA budget in decline, Japan needs to consider strategic measures to utilize the funds.

In its budget plan for fiscal 2023, the government has set the ODA budget for the Foreign Ministry at ¥442.8 billion, the same level as the previous fiscal year.

When combined with the budget for projects undertaken by other ministries, the total amount is expected to reach more than ¥500 billion. Still, this is half the amount from the peak year of fiscal 1997 at ¥1.1687 trillion.

This year, the government will revise for the first time in eight years its Development Cooperation Charter, which sets guidelines for ODA. The government is said to be considering adding the “free and open Indo-Pacific” initiative and an economic security perspective to economic cooperation.

In order to stop China and Russia — countries that threaten the international order — from running amok, it is essential to expand democracy and the rule of law. Diversification of supply chains is another important issue. The direction of the charter revision is understandable.

A roundtable council of experts at the ministry views ODA as “the most important tool of diplomacy” and has called for a drastic expansion of the ODA budget.

Japan’s ODA budget in 2021 was the third largest in the world following the United States and Germany. With the fiscal situation worsening, it is difficult to make any significant increases.

Nevertheless, if Japan is to play a proactive role in restoring international order, it must strengthen its ability to demonstrate its opinions and intentions. A certain amount of budget increase is worth considering.

Separate from ODA, the government has established a framework of assistance for security-related matters, such as the provision of radar for coastal security. It is understandable that Japan aims to increase the number of friendly countries in the face of the deteriorating security environment surrounding the nation.

There is likely room for improvement in running ODA.

According to the Board of Audit of Japan, the disaster prevention communication system that Japan had installed in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific was left in a state of inoperability. In the Philippines, only six out of 25 water supply stations installed in mountainous areas were in operation.

In each case, the situation occurred because the facilities were not maintained after they were handed over to the local authorities.

It is important that regular upkeep is performed so that local residents can receive the benefits for a long time. The government needs to establish a system to continuously inspect operations at the local level.

Regarding China’s assistance to emerging countries, the “debt trap” in which China gains rights to use ports and other facilities after putting recipient nations into debt has become a problem. Japan should promote its sound support program.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2023)