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Japan PM's Africa tour a bid to counter China, Russia influence

By RFI
China REUTERS - AMR ABDALLAH DALSH
TUE, 02 MAY 2023 LISTEN
REUTERS - AMR ABDALLAH DALSH

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began his first week-long Africa tour in Egypt at the weekend. The four-nation visit is part of a concerted effort to strengthen relations with the "Global South" and counter the growing influence of China and Russia in the region.

The Japanese prime minister regards cooperation with Global South countries as vital for upholding what is called the "rules-based international order." The trip is also a bid to respond to China's expanding military and economic influence in the region.

"I hope to engage in discussions on the situation in Ukraine and other international issues, and reinforce our collaboration," Kishida told reporters before his departure.

Several African nations rely on Russia for energy supplies and depend on China for economic aid and investment.

On Sunday, Kishida met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to discuss the ongoing conflict in Sudan, the war in Ukraine and rising energy and food prices.

 

Japan's G7 summit: South Africa excluded

Kishida's tour comes just three weeks ahead of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, his hometown. At the summit, Kishida aims to garner international support and solidarity for Ukraine and its plight caused by Russia's invasion.

On 17 April, Bloomberg website reported that Japan had invited the African Union to the upcoming G7 meeting in Hiroshima, that is to take place between 17-19 May.

Traditionally, it is South Africa that is represented as an observer during G7 meetings.

"The Japanese government, which is hosting the G7, decided for its version of the summit to invite the African Union instead of individual countries from Africa," the South African presidency was quoted as saying.

"Therefore, the president of Comoros, who is the current chair, will attend the G7 plus meetings and not South Africa".

Among the reasons behind Japan's move, the reluctance by South Africa to censor Russia's invasion of Ukraine during recent United Nations General Assembly votes, and Pretoria's hosting of war games in which Russia and China took part.

High level dialogue

Japan's increasing involvement in Africa is not new. In 1993, Japan started the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) conferences, aimed at promoting high-level policy dialogue among African leaders and their development partners.

The process, now in its eighth edition, emerged after the end of the Cold War in "an era of 'aid fatigue' among donor countries, and was critical in regenerating strong donor interest in Africa," according to Fletcher Tembo of the Overseas Development Institute.

On 28 March 2022, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi held talks with ministers from 50 African nations, where he expressed concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and about African countries increasing their dependence on China. He also announced Japan's commitment to increase cooperation with Africa.

According to Céline Pajon of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), "deepening ties with Africa is also necessary for Japan to diversify its supply of energy and mineral resources."

Tokyo last year announced the phasing out of Russian oil imports and Japanese companies have made plans to turn old LNG tankers into floating offshore LNG production bases to cut costs.

These floating production sites "could be built off the coast of Africa, perhaps near Mozambique, a key country for Japan's investment in LNG supply and infrastructure" Pajon says.

Counterbalancing China's Belt and Road

Together with India, Japan is attempting to offer an alternative for China's multibillion dollar "Belt and Road Initiative", an mammoth project creating infrastructure such as ports, airfields, bridges and railroads.

Premasha Saha, Associate Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, told RFI that as " India was a country which had raised its voice against the Belt and Road initiative" because it suspected Beijing was "compromising sovereignty" of the countries involved. So, as a result, it decided to join Japan in launching the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor ."

Apart from security concerns, Tokyo "seeks to promote its investment in 'high-quality infrastructure' in comparison to what it regards as 'substandard' Chinese infrastructure," according to Jagannath Panda, Head of the Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs.

On top of that, he writes, " Japan tends to label   Chinese  engagement with Africa as 'unethical' and alleges that Beijing's outreach is based on offering cheap goods, providing soft loans in an attractive but unaccountable manner, and exists to take advantage of African resources".

After Egypt, Kishida will go to Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique, where he will meet with Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Kenyan President William Ruto, and Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi respectively.

(With agencies)

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