Japan to Boost Ties with Africa, with Eye on China

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks on video to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, in August 2022.

Tokyo, Dec. 31 (Jiji Press)—The Japanese government is intensifying its diplomatic efforts with Africa, aiming to strengthen collaboration with the coalition of emerging and developing nations known as the Global South.

Japan’s increased emphasis on Africa also serves the purpose of positioning the country as a counterbalance to China’s expanding influence on the continent.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited four African countries, including Egypt, in April and May 2023. His administration plans to deepen cooperation with African nations in a strategic way, primarily through the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. TICAD, which marked its 30th anniversary in October 2023.

TICAD is a summit-level international conference spearheaded by Japan to deliberate on strategies for African development. Since its inception in 1993, the conference has taken place eight times, co-hosted by organizations such as the African Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and others. During a related meeting convened in Tokyo last August, Kishida said in a video message: “African countries are gaining growing importance and influence in the international arena. Japan aspires to be a collaborative partner, fostering mutual growth with Africa.”

At the meeting, then Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi emphasized Japan’s stance of attaching importance to TICAD in promoting diplomacy. Japan will position “TICAD as a platform to exchange ideas with African nations on a range of challenges facing international society, sharing policies geared toward upholding and strengthening a free and open international order founded on the rule of law,” he said.

In its early phases, TICAD was predominantly recognized as a conference centered on aid to Africa, specifically addressing measures to alleviate poverty. With the anticipation of economic and population growth in Africa in the coming years, however, the conference has evolved, placing a greater emphasis on investment-related issues. “African countries are appealing as investment destinations for Japanese businesses,” a Japanese government official noted.

The shift in approach mirrors Africa’s importance as “a significant voting bloc” of more than 50 countries that Tokyo can look to for support in international conferences, including those held at the United Nations.

China is also working actively to align African countries with its interests, viewing the region as a promising market.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, an international forum in which Chinese and African leaders participate, was launched in 2000. Through the forum, China is using its overwhelming capital power to win over African countries. In August 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited South Africa to highlight China’s hopes to boost collaboration.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has fueled investments in African nations, notably in extensive infrastructure projects. According to the Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO, a study by Boston University shows that China provided $170.1 billion in loans to African countries from 2000 to 2022, equivalent to about 60 pct of World Bank loans to the region in the same period.

Nevertheless, there are profound concerns over the influx of Chinese capital into Africa, labeled a form of “debt trap” diplomacy that burdens developing countries with substantial debt.

By contrast, Japan highlights its distinctive approach to assisting Africa, emphasizing, for instance, commitments to human resource development, a major challenge for Africa. A senior official from the Foreign Ministry said, “Unlike China, Japan is providing support with a keen understanding of the recipient side’s perspective.”

The forthcoming Group of Seven summit in Italy in 2024 is expected to feature aid to Africa as a major theme. Subsequently, the ninth TICAD is slated for 2025 in Yokohama, eastern Japan. Observers will be keenly watching how far the meeting can build upon the discussions at the G-7 summit and formulate policies crucial for the development of Africa.