Africa caught up between Japan and China

japan-china-flag

This weekend Japan holds the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) VI in Nairobi, Kenya. Technically, this means, Africa hosts TICAD for the first time since its inception in 1993. But why so, and why now? One theory is that it was Africa’s initiative.
This may be true but is not any more adequate as an explanation than the claim, for instance, that the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was a purely African initiative.

He who pays the piper, as they say, always calls the tune. In a sense, we can also say, FOCAC inspired TICAD to come to Africa just like TICAD inspired FOCAC to come into being in 2000.

FOCAC VI was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in December 2015. If so, what does TICAD IV mean in the wider context of Sino-Japanese diplomacy in Africa? Apart from Japan’s longstanding interest in providing a high-level forum for consultations about African development, one can sense at least four schools of thought about why TICAD came to Africa in August 2016.

First, it is a continuation of Japan’s strategy to contain China’s expanding influence in Africa and elsewhere, a strategy that seemingly began in earnest around January 2014 when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Mozambique.

The second school sees Japan’s aim in Africa as engaging China by trying to make it clear that China’s behaviours in Asia could affect its interests in Africa. China’s interest in Africa is indeed expanding.

The third school views Japan’s ambition in Africa as more limited in nature, focusing mainly on gaining access to Africa’s resources. Then there is the fourth school that considers Japan’s interests in Africa as more specifically diplomatic, aimed at garnering Africa’s support in its quest for permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council as well as its other global ventures.

In reality, of course, the four schools can overlap occasionally. In any case, one does not have to subscribe to the “containment” school in order to maintain, first, that it was the growing power of China in Africa (and elsewhere) and the insecurity it triggered in Japan that conditioned the timing of TICAD VI in Africa in August 2016. With more than $200 billion, China-Africa trade hit all-time high in 2014, and that was more than seven times the value of Japan’s trade with Africa in the same period.

While Africa’s imports from China grew from 2 per cent in 1995 to 13 per cent in 2012, Africa’s imports from Japan fell from around 7 per cent in 1995 to 3 per cent in the same period. In 2014, 13.5 per cent of Africa’s trade was with China. The comparative figure for Japan was only 1 per cent.

China has also bolstered its growing economic presence in Africa with a potentially formidable soft power by mobilising its cultural resources and opening multiple channels of public diplomacy with governments and peoples of Africa.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest daily newspaper, for instance thus sounded the alarm in 2013: “…Japan must be cautious about China’s moves on the African continent, where it is stepping up its presence. We cannot ignore China’s policy towards Africa, which is noticeably aimed at monopolising natural resources there while focusing only on China’s interest.”

And yet a broad consensus has been emerging that Japan had to make a move without much delay. “If you wait until the security situation fully improves across Africa,” a Japanese government official reportedly said, “there will be no market left for you”.

Now that China and Japan are ready to compete not only for raw materials and markets but also for respect and love in Africa, what is the proper African response?

Source: Standard Digital