The government is considering supporting companies that conduct joint projects with Chinese companies in countries along China’s Belt and Road mega economic zone, as part of economic cooperation regarding the initiative, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The pillar of the economic cooperation is providing assistance via funding and other means to projects in Southeast Asian nations and other areas along the Belt and Road zone. It is also aimed at improving Japan-China relations and obtaining China’s cooperation in hindering North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
The Belt and Road is a combination of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which connects China with Europe by land, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route that links the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and others.
Japan’s assistance plan was devised following a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Germany in July. During the meeting, Abe described the project as an “initiative with potential” and expressed his willingness to cooperate.
Abe confirmed the cooperation policy at another meeting with Xi in Vietnam on Nov. 11. Government offices including the Cabinet Secretariat, the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have worked out a concrete plan.
According to the plan, the government will emphasize assistance in three fields: energy saving and environmental cooperation; industrial advances; and improving the usability of distribution networks.
For example, the government is considering loans from government-affiliated financial institutions when Japanese and Chinese companies are involved in solar and wind power development or industrial park development in a third country along the Belt and Road. Regarding industrial park development, the government is envisaging the Eastern Economic Corridor, a special economic zone located in central Thailand.
China is making a strong effort to develop a railway network that connects the country with Central Asia and Europe as part of the Belt and Road initiative. The railway network will also be beneficial to Japanese companies working in China, as it would improve the efficiency of the transportation of products, so the Japanese government is planning to help improve the usability of the railway network.
The government was initially wary of the Belt and Road initiative. “The initiative is a move for China to have economic hegemony,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
However, it is indispensable to obtain the cooperation of China, which has strong leverage over North Korea, to hinder the country’s nuclear and missile development. Therefore, the government has decided it is necessary to move forward to a certain degree with economic cooperation with China.
It is also aimed at forging a path to holding a Japan-China-South Korea summit meeting that is scheduled to take place in Japan, and realize Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan at an early date. The government is also eyeing the realization of a visit by Abe to China next year, and a visit by Xi to Japan.
However, China is promoting harbor development projects by state-owned companies at strategically important points along the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea that are part of the Belt and Road, and experts have cited the possibility of their military use.
The Japanese government plans to refrain from being involved in joint harbor projects for the time being.