Prioritize Understanding of Aid Recipient Countries’ Needs

As the international order is threatened by Russia’s outrageous actions, it is important for Japan to make use of the amicable relations with developing countries that have been fostered through its official development assistance (ODA).

The Japanese government has released a draft revision of the Development Cooperation Charter, which sets the guidelines for ODA. The Cabinet plans to approve the draft as early as May after soliciting opinions from the public. This will be the first revision of the charter in eight years.

The revised draft emphasizes that the purpose of ODA is to “contribute to the formation of a peaceful and stable international society based on the rule of law.”

Japan has long worked to overcome poverty and build and improve social infrastructure in Asia and Africa through its ODA projects. Unlike Western aid efforts, Japanese assistance has led to closer ties with developing countries and emerging economies in the so-called “Global South,” particularly those nations in the southern hemisphere.

While developed countries, among other nations, have expressed criticism of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, these developing countries do not necessarily share such views. Japan must use the strength of its long-standing assistance to deepen its involvement in developing countries and work to restore international order.

However, the actual scale of the ODA budget is not encouraging.

Since its peak at ¥1.1687 trillion in fiscal 1997, the ODA budget has been declining, reaching only ¥570.9 billion in fiscal 2023. Although Japan’s aid budget was the world’s largest in the 1990s, it now ranks third behind the United States and Germany.

Considering the severe fiscal situation, a large increase in the ODA budget is difficult to achieve, but a certain amount of increase is something to consider in conducting strategic diplomacy.

The revised draft also clearly states that as an approach to facilitating ODA projects, Japan will promote “offer-type” cooperation, in which it actively proposes cooperative projects without waiting for recipient countries to make a request. It is believed that Tokyo aims to increase the number of countries with which it is on good terms, so-called “like-minded countries,” by comprehensively providing support for infrastructure development, medical care, education and other areas.

While the intention to build strong relationships with specific countries is understandable, there have been cases in which it is doubtful whether Japan’s ODA was really in line with the needs of aid recipient countries.

For example, a fish market built in the West African country of Mali with a grant of ¥1 billion was not utilized for about 10 years after its completion because the location was not easily accessible. It must be said that prior research was inadequate.

There have also been cases in Asia and Pacific island nations in which water supply and disaster prevention facilities have been left in a state of disrepair.

It is vital to sufficiently understand local needs and take the necessary measures so that local residents can get the benefits of the ODA for a long time. If the Japanese government alone cannot do so, it should cooperate with nonprofit organizations and the private sector to establish a system for regular inspections and repairs.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 13, 2023)