Japan’s Africa aid rivals China in terms of ‘quality over quantity’: analysts
Japan has been investing in the continent for longer than China and applies international standards to its infrastructure financing, analysts said. Its pockets may not be as deep, but its support of good governance and democratic principles makes it a tempting development partner for African states.
Japan might not be able to rival China when it comes to exerting economic influence on the African continent, but analysts say Tokyo can offer an alternative model of development and compete with Beijing on providing infrastructure financing and good governance to international standards. While it may currently seem like Japan is eager to play catch up with China in Africa, they said it has in fact long been one of the most important actors on the continent. Late last month, at the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Tunisia, Japan pledged US$30 billion in public and private financial contributions to the continent over the next three years.
Japan pledges US$30 billion of aid and investment for Africa to counter Chinese influence
The move has been widely seen as an attempt to exert economic and diplomatic influence in Africa and counter China’s standing. Speaking via video link, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to help Africa “urgently deal with issues such as … unfair and opaque development finance”, in what was interpreted as a swipe at China’s lending practices. Beijing has denied that it aims to catch countries in a “debt trap” with its Belt and Road Initiative, as Japan and other Group of 7 members have claimed, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying last month that “the so-called Chinese debt trap is a lie made up by the US and some other Western countries to deflect responsibility and blame”. Purnendra Jain, visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies, said Japan can offer an alternative development model for Africa. “It is for the African nations to decide for themselves which models appeal to them and are in their national interest,” he said, adding that Japan was a player on the continent even before Beijing launched its Forum of China-Africa Cooperation in 2000. “It’s hard for Japan to compete with China in quantity terms, but Tokyo offers quality projects which are transparent in nature and in partnership with African nations,” Jain said.
Tokyo applies international standards on infrastructure financing, it supports good governance and democratic principles Celine Pajon, French Institute of International Relations
Celine Pajon, head of Japan research at the French Institute of International Relations’s Centre for Asian Studies in Paris, said while Japan could not match the amount China was pledging to Africa, Tokyo sought to differentiate itself from Beijing by insisting on quality in its approach to development lending. “Tokyo applies international standards on infrastructure financing, it supports good governance and democratic principles,” Pajon said, adding that Japan also focused on investing in human resources by providing training to African countries instead of exporting its workers like China does.
The number of Chinese workers in Africa peaked at 263,659 in 2015, according to the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies’ China Africa Research Initiative (CARI), but the figure has steadily declined since then.
By the end of 2020, it stood at 104,074 – down 43 per cent from the previous year – largely because of pandemic-related travel difficulties. Japan can support Africa’s economic recovery from the pandemic by helping nations build up their fiscal autonomy and working to prevent sovereign and private debt defaults, Pajon said.
“Rather than competing with China, Japan is trying to provide an alternative to what Beijing has to offer,” she said, adding that while the two countries’ investments in infrastructure are complementary, cooperation is not possible as China “does not consider international standards in its development practices. China’s economic expansion is progressing at the expense of human rights and good governance,” Pajon said, referring to civil society criticisms in recent years over China’s failure to promote good governance and human rights despite its strong economic presence on the continent.
Pajon said Japan should continue to train African workers to take advantage of commercial opportunities, and expand its cooperation with third partners such as the European Union, India, Australia, and the United States.
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