The government’s policy shift toward cooperation with China over development assistance for African countries is aimed not only at gaining Chinese cooperation to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, but also at putting the improvement of bilateral relations on a stable path.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-China Peace and Amity Treaty. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held separate talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in November 2017, and Japan-China relations have seen signs of improvement.
By switching its policy on Africa assistance, the government hopes to improve the friendly mood with China, to realize Abe’s visit to China within 2018 to be followed by a visit to Japan by Xi.
Improved relations with China could be a good selling point for Abe in the presidential election of his Liberal Democratic Party. Abe is seeking to be elected as LDP president for the third time in the September race this year.
Some issues remain between the two countries, including the continuing incursions by Chinese government ships into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands. Japan and China also differ on their views of China’s militarization of outposts in the South China Sea.
However, “cooperation in Africa, which is closely linked to Xi’s pet project of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ mega economic zone initiative, could be a suitable result in Japan-China summit talks,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.
Another reason why Japan wants China’s cooperation in Africa development assistance is that Japan alone can only do so much to secure funds and labor for development projects that African countries want to be completed at an early date.
Japan hopes to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and has been conducting its own development assistance for Africa such as taking initiatives at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).
The international conference to discuss development and assistance for Africa has been held six times at intervals of three to five years since 1993. The next TICAD is scheduled for 2019 in Yokohama.
Some in the government are cautious about changing the policy on development assistance for Africa in connection with China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiatives. China is taking a more strongly hegemonic stance even in regions west of the Indian Ocean. For example, China has built its first overseas military base in the northeastern African country of Djibouti.
The cautious views stem from the idea that cooperation with China in Africa assistance might assist such hegemonic moves.
One of the factors behind Japan’s agreement with Kenya for assistance in developing Mombasa Port is to prevent China from putting the port under its influence, a government source said.
Therefore, even if Japan seeks China’s cooperation in developing the Mombasa Special Economic Zone, the government intends to limit China’s involvement to just the construction of related roads. If China is involved in developing the port, the government believes China will have its ships enter into the port as if it owns the facility.