Japan should Continue Efforts to Improve the Lives of People around the World

Japan has long supported developing countries through its official development assistance (ODA) and has enhanced its position in the international community. It is important to constantly review the methods and nature of support in response to changes in international situations.

The government has revised for the first time in eight years the Development Cooperation Charter, which serves as guidelines for the nation’s assistance to foreign countries. The purpose of this revision is to include measures to deal with issues that were not envisioned in the previous charter, such as China’s hegemonic activities and the food crisis brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

China has been increasing its influence by providing massive loans for infrastructure projects in developing countries. However, under the terms of such loans, Beijing obtains the rights to use infrastructure facilities if countries struggle to repay their debts. Such a method to provide support cannot be described as sound.

In light of the situation, the revised charter states that Japan will realize “cooperation that does not involve debt traps or economic coercion.” Japan needs to continue to provide fair and transparent assistance and deepen its relationship of trust with developing countries.

However, simply constructing infrastructure facilities does not lead to sustainable development in developing countries. Japan should promote technical cooperation and human resource development in areas such as medicine and agriculture, fields in which Japan excels.

Many nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and private citizens such as doctors are already making efforts in these areas. The government and the private sector need to work together to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

Regarding ODA projects, problems have also arisen in which established facilities have not been used effectively.

In this regard, the charter states that “follow-up” activities will be conducted to ensure that individual projects are properly evaluated after the completion of the projects, but it does not mention any specific measures or methods for follow-up activities.

A framework must be established to regularly repair and inspect infrastructure facilities in cooperation with private NPOs and other entities.

Although ODA is meant to be limited to nonmilitary activities, a case has emerged that rocks that principle.

In Myanmar, several passenger ships provided by Japan from 2017 to 2019 for transporting people to and from workplaces and schools were used by the current government to transport weapons. The coup orchestrated by the Myanmar military in 2021 is believed to be a factor. Japan’s Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest with Myanmar.

This fiscal year, the Japanese government established the Official Security Assistance (OSA) program, which is separate from ODA, to support the strengthening of military forces in developing countries. The government intends to provide equipment such as radar to four countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia, in the first application of the program.

The aim of expanding the scope of Japan’s international contributions is understandable, but the government should avoid a situation in which Japan’s assistance triggers conflicts.

A system should be established to check that equipment provided by Japan in ODA and OSA projects is being used appropriately. Another issue is how to deal with recipient countries in the event of political upheaval.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 16, 2023)