Japan and the EU: Friends of Africa?

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      Early June, Japan hosted the Fifth Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD V).  Some 40 African Heads of State and Government made the long journey to Japan. In Tokyo they were welcomed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a strong Japanese commitment to spend some 24.2 billion Euros of public and private funds in Africa in the coming 5 years. It’s been a long time since Japan scored so well in the African and international media. Since the beginning of the new millennium, Japan’s role as a global economic powerhouse and the number one donor of international aid (until 2000) has been overshadowed by the strong rise of China. The third largest economy in the world may have taken an uppercut from its traditional opponent, but it has definitively not been knocked out from the global competition for natural resources and markets. The country of the rising sun is making huge investments in renewing and strengthening its partnerships and alliances all over the world. This is also the case on the African continent where Japan has remained fairly absent in the past. Today Africa counts for only 2 per cent of the total Japanese trade and investment, but with an average economic growth of some 6 per cent, resource-rich Africa also becomes an attractive bride for Japan to engage with. The almost 25 billion euros that Japan has pledged to Africa will be invested in infrastructure, industrial development, agriculture, education and health. In return Japan hopes to benefit from the boom in the extractive industries in Africa and to receive the support of Africa for its candidacy for the Olympic Games in 2020.

      The EU on Japan’s radar

      Other regions and countries are now also on the radar of Japan. In the traditional stronghold of Asia; Japan is seducing India. Both countries share a common aversion to China. However beyond Asia, Japan has also developed an extraordinary interest in the EU. Obviously this is not based on the same grounds as the interest for Africa. The EU lacks natural resources and a Europe in crisis is not very attractive for trade and investment. So what drives Japan to deepen its alliance with the EU? And why is the EU also taking an interest in strengthening its ties with Japan? Firstly, Japan may at some stage need a strong EU as a key partner in strengthening its foreign policy impact. While the Lisbon Treaty did not yet realise the high expectations, the EU as “like-minded” partner has the potential in the long run to become a stronger global player both in economic and political terms. Secondly, both Japan and the EU will have to compete more with China and other emerging economies in Africa. For Japan the EU has major attractive assets in Africa because of its deeply rooted historical linkages and knowledge and expertise of the African continent. Thirdly, a more intense Japan-EU cooperation could also be mutually beneficial in the area of development, with almost 60 per cent of the total global aid (of which most is spent in Africa) the EU is the largest player in international development aid. However, more importantly, in a world where the impact of aid is declining, the EU provides an interesting development vision and model that is complementary to the development policies and approaches of Japan.

      The software and hardware of development

      Traditionally the EU has been emphasising "the software" of development, with a strong focus on; poverty reduction, governance and human rights based approaches, the participation of civil society and the promotion of regional integration. On the other side, Japan has focused more on "the hardware" of development: economic transformation and growth, infrastructure and industrial production. In recent years there has been a gradual “rapprochement” of each other’s approaches in development. With the Agenda for Change and the debates on a new post-2015 development framework, the EU is also focusing now on economic transformation, inclusive growth, private sector development and development finance beyond aid; areas which always have been close to the Japanese core business. Japan also seems to be influenced by the EU, particularly the comprehensive EU approach combining security, development and governance appeals to Japan.

      JICA: omnipresent in Brussels

      It is against this background that a new type of EU-Japan partnership for Africa could be in the making. There are some signs of these emerging interests. Last year Japan opened an office of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Brussels at a stone’s throw from the European Commission, the European External Action Service and the Permanent Representations of most EU member states. The JICA delegation is omnipresent in Brussels; it has established intense relations with all European official key players, think tanks and civil society organisations. The EU is also stepping up its high level contacts. Development Commissioner Piebalgs met three times in the past 12 months with JICA President Tanaka and earlier this week he was also invited to Tokyo for TCAD V. The message is clear: a combined action of the  “traditional” partners Japan and the EU, on the African continent could be appealing for Africa that increasingly seems to be confronted with the limitations of the Chinese approach.  As Prime Minister Abe clearly stated last week in his address to the African leaders: “Japan will not simply bring natural resources from Africa to Japan. We want to realize industrialization in Africa that will generate employment and high quality growth by distributing benefits widely and deeply among people in society”. A message that should sound like music to the ears of both African and European policy makers concerned with the principles of inclusive growth and development. -- Geert Laporte is ECDPM’s Deputy Director. This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.
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