*Japan's Pivot to Africa / Foreign Affairs 16.09.16*

Abe's Development Pitch

By J. Berkshire Miller

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has been looking to boost its global
standing. In that effort, the country’s relationships with African states
have become key. The most recent signs of Tokyo’s pivot to the continent
came in late August, when Abe travelled to Kenya to attend the Sixth Tokyo
International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a meeting convened
by Japan, 54 African states, and several international organizations. At
the conference, Abe pledged more than $30 billion in Japanese investment to
infrastructure projects across the continent over the next three years—the
largest such commitment in TICAD’s history.

Abe’s investment pledge reflected a broader shift in Japan’s policy in
Africa: from aid to trade and from government to the private sector. Last
month’s TICAD was not short of symbolism to this effect. The meeting was
the first of its kind held in Africa instead of in Japan, and Abe, whose
public remarks painted his country as an economic partner rather than a
donor, brought more than a hundred Japanese businesspeople along for the

For decades, Japan’s foreign policy in Africa revolved around the
projection of soft power, mainly in the form of development assistance. But
in recent years, economic pressure at home and competition with other
foreign players on the continent have led Tokyo to reconsider.

Japan’s biggest competitor for influence in the region is China. Over the
past decade, Beijing has committed tens of billions of dollars to African
countries in a web of investments, loans, and joint ventures. At the 2015
Forum on China-Africa Cooperation—a summit that Beijing first convened in
2000—Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged more than $60 billion in
investment to the continent. India has also upped its game: in 2010, it
launched the India-Africa Business Forum, and as of 2014, it had some $15
billion invested in ventures in African states. For years, Japan’s foreign
direct investment in African states has also been climbing, although more
gradually. Yet its expenditures remain well below China and India's, and
they lag behind those of many of the countries in the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of advanced industrialized
states to which Japan belongs.

Tokyo is pushing forward anyway, mostly because of African countries’
importance to Japan’s economy. Many of the raw materials and resources used
to manufacture Japanese exports—from automobiles to household
appliances—come from African states. By deepening Japanese investment and
encouraging corporate joint ventures, Tokyo hopes to secure the supply
chains that lead to these materials. Japan has poured millions of dollars
of investment into resource-rich Madagascar, for example, where an
international consortium that includes the Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo
aims to develop the country’s cobalt and nickel industries. Energy is
another target for Japan, which is in particular need of foreign sources of
fuel thanks to the cuts to domestic nuclear power production that followed
the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. In 2014, Tokyo pledged nearly $700
million to help build Mozambique’s capacity to export liquefied natural gas
to Japan—the world’s largest importer of the fuel—over the following five
years. Despite China’s massive footprint on the resource market in Africa,
then, Japan has been making inroads.

    Despite China’s massive footprint on the resource market, Japan has
been making inroads.

Tokyo is complementing its economic outreach with a diplomatic push. Abe’s
August trip marked his third visit to Africa since he took office in late
2012. No other Japanese prime minister has visited the continent so many
times in such a short period. Last year, Abe traveled to Ethiopia, the
Ivory Coast, and Mozambique, becoming the first Japanese leader to go to
sub-Saharan Africa since a 2006 trip by Junichiro Koizumi. In 2014, during
a tour of the Middle East, Abe made a stopover in Djibouti, where Japan’s
Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have their only foreign base. And the TICAD
meetings have become a more powerful diplomatic tool than they were in the
past, thanks mostly to Japan’s expanding relationships with the
participating countries.

Abe also hopes to rally African support for Tokyo’s campaign to reform the
United Nations. Japan, which is one of the largest donors to the UN, has
long sought a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and has
lobbied a number of African states to back its position. At this year’s
TICAD, Abe managed to secure a joint statement from Japanese and African
leaders expressing a shared determination to “urgently reform” the world
body, including the Security Council. But many African states will hesitate
to go further, mostly because of their economic ties with China, which
vehemently opposes Japan joining the Security Council as a permanent
member. Indeed, Security Council reform is unlikely in the near term, since
Beijing will work to block any attempt by Tokyo to gain a permanent seat.
For now, the support that Japan secured for its position is most important


During his trip to Kenya last month, Abe committed Tokyo to ramped-up
security ties with African governments, mostly in support of
counterterrorism and antipiracy initiatives. Japan managed to get all the
African leaders attending the conference to voice their support for a
“rules-based” maritime order—a diplomatic barb aimed at Beijing’s expansive
claims and coercive tactics in the East and South China Seas. And in
bilateral meetings with officials from the Ivory Coast, Kenya, and
Mozambique, Abe has also gained informal support for Tokyo's 2015 security
reforms, which will loosen the restrictions on Japan’s involvement in
overseas peacekeeping and security missions.

As for Japan’s security commitments, in recent years, the country has taken
on a more prominent role in some of Africa’s conflict zones. Tokyo still
has a presence on the Horn of Africa through its SDF base in Djibouti,
which it uses mostly to support anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean.
In South Sudan, meanwhile, the SDF has participated in a United Nations’
peacekeeping mission since 2011. So far, Japan’s role in the operation has
been limited to the provision of technical expertise. Of the around 400
Japanese troops it has sent to the country, most are engineers. Thanks to
Tokyo’s security reforms, however, that balance could soon change: under
its new mandate, the SDF will be empowered to come to the defense of allied
units under attack beyond its immediate vicinity. In this sense, the
mission in South Sudan is a testing ground for Abe’s broader security
reforms. Its success or failure—especially if it involves Japanese
casualties—could influence the prime minister’s plans to begin government
discussions on controversial revisions to the Japanese constitution that
could further liberalize the restraints on the SDF.

Japan’s message to African countries is clear: there are routes to
sustainable development that do not involve China. That idea should be
appealing to many on the continent, where some states have complained about
China’s mercantilist economic policies and opaque investment programs.
Despite Japan’s corporate transparency and qualitative edge, the challenge
for Tokyo remains enormous. In 2015, African countries’ trade with Japan
was worth only $20 billion; with China, it was worth $180 billion. Just
before last month’s conference, the state-backed Chinese outlet Global
Times published an editorial noting that, when it comes to economic ties
with African states, ”there is a huge gap between Abe’s political dream and
reality.” The claim was meant to be pejorative; it may also have been

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