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Japan and China Compete in Africa

10:20 AM, Feb 18, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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Chinese media have given minimal coverage to president Bush‘s week-long visit to Africa. While Xinhua ascribes the motivation for the five-nation trip to "strategic interests" that include military and energy security, it also acknowledges that the U.S. troop presence in Africa has been "tiny."

By contrast, Beijing seems much more concerned with Japan's push into the continent, as evidenced by an article titled "Japanese diplomacy takes aim at Africa." The piece appeared in last Wednesday's edition of Liberation Daily and was subsequently reprinted by Xinhua.

The article states that Tokyo has launched a new round of "diplomatic offensives" in Africa, beginning with last month's visit to Tanzania by Japanese foreign minister Masahiko Koumura. During that visit, he unveiled a $260 million aid package to help African nations deal with conflicts and natural disasters.

The piece reports that Japan's new diplomatic targeting of Africa includes the hosting of two major international conferences later this year. The first of these is the fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, to be held in Yokohama in May. The other is the G8 Hokkaido Summit in July. Host country Japan has invited 14 non-members to participate in the forum and fully half are from Africa.

The Liberation Daily article further states that these actions are motivated by three factors. One is that, as a formidable voting bloc, Africa could help Japan achieve its goal of becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. This, in turn, would help transform the country from simply an economic power into a political one as well.

The second factor is the continent's vast energy resources. And finally, the article explains the push as an attempt to counter China's growing influence in the region:

The success of the 2006 Beijing Forum on China-Africa Cooperation gave China the upper hand. Green with envy, Japan launched a "diplomatic offensive" consisting of political courtship and economic aid. Japan competes [with China] and stands in [China's] way wherever possible. Japan believes that if it succeeds in containing and countering China it will weaken China's influence in Africa.

The main theme of the Liberation Daily piece echoes that of a number of other reports Chinese media ran recently on the inroads Tokyo has made in Africa.

One article's caption reads "Why is Japan eyeing Africa more and more closely?" It finds especially noteworthy the visit to Botswana and South Africa this past November by Japan's trade minister Akira Amari, during which Tokyo secured rare-metal exploration deals with both countries. While the report described Amari's trip as "fruitful," it neglected to mention that Japan embarked on its hunt for rare metals in Africa because China's increasing domestic demand for these minerals had led it recently to cut back on exports to Japan.

In chronicling Japanese aid to Africa, the report also noted that since the 1990s Japan has been the second largest donor country to Africa, behind only France.

In the end, however, Beijing's apprehension over Tokyo's overtures toward Africa may be unnecessary. The "Official Development Assistance Charter" adopted by the Japanese government in 1992 requires Tokyo to link its aid to the promotion of human rights, freedom, and democracy. Chinese aid to Africa, on the other hand, comes with no such strings attached.