Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged ￥3.2 trillion (US$32 billion) to Africa yesterday as his government seeks to catch up with China in pursuing resources, markets and influence on the continent.
Abe announced the five-year commitment of public and private support in a speech yesterday at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. Officials from about 50 nations are attending the meeting, held every five years, which is the biggest African development event outside the continent since it began in 1993.
Africa’s economic growth is luring Japanese exporters, while the government wants to tap the natural gas and oil there after the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster led to the closing of Japan’s nuclear plants. Chinese firms fueled US$138.6 billion in China-Africa trade in 2011, nearly five times Japan’s commerce with the continent, according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign affairs, citing IMF data.
“China has become a far greater presence than Japan in Africa — it’s overwhelming,” said Kazuyoshi Aoki, a professor at Nihon University in Tokyo who specializes in African matters.
In his speech, Abe outlined policies to encourage investment by Japanese companies and support advances in health, education and agriculture. Yesterday’s pledge compares with publicly funded assistance of about US$9.2 billion from 2008 to last year.
Abe has not visited Africa since taking office in December last year, in contrast with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who stopped in Tanzania, the Republic of the Congo and South Africa in March as part of his first trip abroad less than a month into office.
While in Africa, Xi reiterated a pledge for US$20 billion in loans over the next two years. China also paid for and built the African Union’s US$200 million headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that opened last year.
Most of Japan’s current purchases from Africa consist of metals and fuels, including 10 percent of last year’s liquefied natural gas imports, according to Japanese Ministry of Finance data compiled by Bloomberg. Japan exports mostly vehicles and machinery, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.
Japan is now also seeking rare earth minerals, and agreed with South Africa on May 16 to extend joint exploration for the elements used in high-tech manufacturing as Japan seeks to escape its reliance on imports from China.
The conference renews focus on Africa as a business partner and not just an aid recipient. For the first time, corporations will be invited to an official session, Masaji Matsuyama, a parliamentary senior vice-minister for foreign affairs who holds responsibility for Africa, said in an interview.
Abe is set to hold individual meetings with about 40 African leaders, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
South African President Jacob Zuma is attending, alongside the presidents of Uganda and Zambia.
“The No. 1 request from African nations is promotion of trade and investment,” Matsuyama said.
He said the government’s role will be to smooth the way by investing in infrastructure and sealing accords to protect private investments from the risk of sudden nationalization.
Japan reached an investment agreement with Mozambique that will be announced soon, he added.