Kishida Seeks to Fend Off China in Latin America, Caribbean; Speech Calls For Economic Relations Based on Trust

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends a press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sunday.

SAO PAULO — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had China on his mind as he emphasized the importance of economic cooperation amid equal relations, in a speech delivered in Sao Paulo on Saturday regarding Japan’s foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean.

Kishida conveyed Tokyo’s intention to support the activities of Japanese companies doing business in those regions and announced the implementation of exchange programs involving about 1,000 individuals over the next three years.

It was the first speech by a Japanese prime minister to address policy toward Central and South America in 10 years, since the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave such an address in 2014.

“It is economic relations based on trust, not the threat of force and coercion, that lead to fair prosperity,” Kishida said, a statement that appeared to be aimed at putting the brakes on China’s approach to the regions.

“Acts such as economic coercions … are totally unacceptable,” the prime minister said.

Kishida also called for cooperation in problem-solving, saying, “The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean will be there by our side as irreplaceable partners.”

Backed by its abundant financial resources, China has in recent years been expanding its Belt and Road Initiative to Central and South America and accelerating infrastructure development there. The Japanese government is increasingly wary of opaque development financing, and the prime minister also raised the issue of so-called debt traps, in which China wins concessions from loan recipient countries by soaking them in debt.

Based on such cases as Sri Lanka effectively transferring the right to operate a port to China, Kishida emphasized, “Japan will promote sustainable economic cooperation.”

He also stressed Japan’s commitment to the creation of new industries and employment, noting that “over the past decade, the number of bases for Japanese companies operating in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased by more than 1,000.”

Kishida further encouraged young people from Central and South America to visit Japan through the exchange programs, and expressed Japan’s intention to participate in efforts to protect Amazon rainforests.

After the speech, Kishida gave a press conference attended by Japanese and foreign media organizations.