The Japanese government has drawn up a scheme for Japanese and Chinese companies to cooperate in third countries under the China-led Belt and Road Initiative for a broad new Silk Road economic sphere.
If companies of the two countries can pool their respective technologies to contribute to the sustainable construction of infrastructure, they will be able to support healthy economic development in third countries and in the region. Therefore, this is basically an appropriate plan.
On the other hand, Japan must not lend a hand to China’s use of the initiative for military purposes. Projects also need to be highly transparent and conscious of the environmental impact. We hope that Japan will persist in a policy of careful consideration of its participation in each project on a case-by-case basis.
The Japanese government’s policy was compiled by the Foreign Ministry and other relevant offices after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Japan’s cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative last June.
He cited the following areas in which Japanese and Chinese companies could cooperate in third countries: 1) energy conservation and environmental projects, such as solar power generation; 2) industrial advancement, such as the creation of industrial parks; and 3) logistics encompassing Asia and Europe.
It is not possible to make judgments without looking at the content of specific projects. However, contract procedures for the envisioned projects need to be fair if the Japanese government and private sector are to be involved with them.
We have grave concerns. According to the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Chinese companies won 90% of the contracts for China-funded projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, while local companies accounted only for around 7%.
Compared with the fact that Chinese companies landed contracts for only about 30% of projects funded by the Asian Development Bank and other international organizations, there is a serious lack of balance.
Infrastructure construction must not be undertaken by China for China’s benefit. China must realize that although it is not an OECD member, it cannot win the international community’s trust unless its procedures adhere to international rules.
China granted loans to Sri Lanka for the construction of ports and ended up gaining interests there after Sri Lanka became unable to repay its debts. It built a naval base in Djibouti in Africa and its state-owned company gained control of port management in Greece.
If China uses the Belt and Road Initiative to promote the military use of foreign ports, this would seriously undermine the regional security order. Japan must not lower its guard.
There is nothing wrong with Japan’s looking at ways to cooperate with China under the Belt and Road Initiative. However, it is unacceptable to engage in unprincipled cooperation in the name of improving the bilateral relationship. It is important to adopt a disciplined approach with Japan’s national interest in mind.