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04.06.2006 Asia

China outstripping Japan in diplomatic race to woo Africa

China outstripping Japan in diplomatic race to woo Africa

ACCRA, Ghana--Africa's support may be vital for Japan in its bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat, but recently a familiar rival is gaining the upper hand in influence there: China.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is currently on a tour of Africa, drumming up support and preparing for the next wave of official development assistance (ODA).

"Japan will focus its ODA in areas in which African countries identify problems and strive to solve them on their own," Koizumi told representatives of the African Union (AU) headquarters in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday.

Koizumi's speech was backed up by Tokyo's confidence that it has long supported African nations.

For instance, Japan and the United Nations have co-sponsored the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which aims to raise global interest in Africa and encourage Africa's efforts to help itself. In 2008, Tokyo also plans to host a leaders' summit of African nations, as well as the fourth meeting of the TICAD.

At odds with that, however, was that in 2004 Japan's ODA to Africa was actually cut, to about two-thirds of the approximately $1 billion (114 billion yen) it dished out in 2000, a level that was on par with Western nations.

The United States and France, on the other hand, greatly increased aid to the region after the 2001 terrorist attacks, on the assumption that poverty fosters terrorism.

As Japan has pulled back, China has stepped in.

In fact, even as Koizumi arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao had just left.

Hu's three-nation tour of the continent was his second there so far.

In Nigeria, Hu unveiled a plan to invest $4 billion in, among other things, railways and oil refinery facilities, receiving preferential oil development rights in return. In Morocco and Kenya, Hu proposed to help their manufacturing industries and promised that Chinese companies would build factories there.

Beijing's involvement in the continent extends to military aid as well: both to Sudan, which is currently in the midst of an internal struggle over Darfur, and to Zimbabwe, a country that has come under fire from Washington for tyranny.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told the visiting Chinese president that China would lead the world in this century, and that Nigeria wanted to be right behind.

Nigeria was one of the nations that Tokyo was counting on in last year's bid for the permanent UNSC seat.

China's aid strategy is in sharp contrast to how Koizumi describes Japan's. Japanese aid, he said, should be something "that will be appreciated even if Japan does not spend too much money," such as developing subterranean water resources.

But African nations, which continue to suffer from sluggish economies, see China as a guide for their own economic development.

One political scientist in Kenya said that China will increase its influence in the region because it does not try to shape political systems, and only lends support to top African leaders.

That influence manifested itself last year when, as China had requested of them, AU nations rejected the bid by Japan, Germany, India and Brazil to gain permanent UNSC seats.

Last September, China announced a plan to give $10 billion in loans and other aid for developing nations over the next three years. Beijing also stressed its resolve to help Africa.

Japan, for its part, said at the G-8 summit last summer that it would increase its ODA by $10 billion over the next five years, and double the amount directed to Africa over three.

Koizumi's efforts to win the support of leading AU nations Ethiopia and Ghana continued Monday as he landed in Accra, where he will meet Ghanaian President John Kufuor.

It is the first visit to Ghana by a sitting Japanese prime minister.

But he has yet to present a clear alternative to last year's failed U.N. bid, nor is he attempting to explain the changes in Japanese ODA policy now under way at his initiative.(IHT/Asahi: May 3,2006)