media Ifri in the Media
Céline PAJON, cited by Maria Siow for the South China Morning Post

Japan sells itself as Global South’s China counterweight with whistle-stop tour of Africa, South Asia

  • Madagascar, Ivory Coast and Nigeria were first on the itinerary for Tokyo’s top diplomat this week, with Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy front of mind

  • Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa‘s 10-day tour is calling at Sri Lanka and Nepal last – where the China-India rivalry is sure to be high on the agenda


Japan has dispatched its top diplomat on a whirlwind tour of Global South countries in recent days, as Tokyo seeks to showcase its commitment to the emerging economies of Asia and Africa – where it continues to jostle with China for influence.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa began her 10-day tour last Saturday in the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, off Africa’s east coast, where she discussed economic cooperation and Japan’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy – a vision it shares with Washington that emphasises open trade, maritime security and the rule of law.


As well as stepping up engagement, Tokyo’s aim is to narrow the development gap among countries in the Global South – a term for a loose grouping of developing nations – according to Céline Pajon, head of Japan research at the French Institute of International Relations’ Centre for Asian and Indo-Pacific Studies in Paris.

Strategic considerations were front of mind during the visits, Pajon said, noting that Japan’s free and open Indo-Pacific plan was particularly relevant to Madagascar, given the island’s location in the western Indian Ocean, separated from the African continent by the Mozambique Channel.

“Japan is thus seeking to strengthen maritime connectivity and security, through investments in the Toamasina Port and provision of patrol boats,” Pajon said, referring to Madagascar’s main port. She added that economic security was another key consideration as the island is rich in natural resources and minerals such as nickel

In a meeting with Madagascar’s President Andry Nirina Rajoelina on Sunday, Kamikawa said Japan wanted to contribute to the African country’s economic resilience by improving mineral-resource production and fostering urban growth. In her meetings with senior Ivory Coast officials later in the week, she stressed the importance Tokyo attaches to the country as a gateway to the francophone region of West Africa.

Pajon said the minister’s visits were also aimed at laying the groundwork for the ninth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which is set to be held in the Japanese port city of Yokohama in August next year.


Renewed focus on South Asia

As China continues to expand its regional footprint, Japan is also looking to expand trade and other areas of cooperation with Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The Indian Ocean island nation is a key part of Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy and Pajon said Colombo was expected to continue seeking help from Tokyo to lighten its heavy debt burden.

“Japan has been playing a key role, along with France and India, in helping restructure Sri Lanka’s debt, while providing grants to support the country,” she said. “A debt recovery would allow Japan to resume its loans to Sri Lanka’s port infrastructure and more.”

> Read the article on the South China Morning Post's website. 
Japanese diplomacy maritime security Political influence Africa Indian Ocean Indo-Pacific Japan South Asia