Can Africa help realize Abe’s political dream?

By Zhou Yongsheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/25 18:58:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) will be held on Saturday and Sunday in Kenya. This will be the first time the TICAD has been hosted in Africa since it was founded over two decades ago. According to Japanese media, in order to compete with China for influence in Africa, the TICAD will lay an emphasis on aiding infrastructural construction in the continent, bringing into play Japan's technological advantages. Japan will also provide up to $120 million to fund African countries' anti-terror moves.

Why has Japan attached so much importance to Africa? With 54 UN member states, Africa plays a critical role at the UN. Wooing them matters a lot if Japan wants to play a bigger role in UN politics and on the international stage.

In recent years, Africa has witnessed a good momentum for development and harbors huge market potential. Japan needs to grasp such a growing market so as to revive its economy.

Besides, given China's increasing influence in Africa, competing with and countering China is another factor.

However, the reality is frustrating to Japanese leaders. According to statistics from the Japan External Trade Organization, Japan's total trade volume with Africa was $20.1 billion in 2015, dwarfed by the $179.03 billion between China and Africa.

But as Japan has been plagued by financial strain and a high public debt-to-GDP ratio of 240 percent, it doesn't have much capital to invest in African markets. Therefore, it chooses to highlight its technological edge in competing with China so as to draw closer to more African countries.

This is merely a competitive strategy. The quality of Japanese technology is not as miraculous as it claimed. The recent years have witnessed massive recalls of defective Japanese vehicles.

There have also been scandals in which manufactures falsified data so as to meet the high technological criteria required.

In late April, it was exposed that Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors faked fuel consumption test data involving 625,000 vehicles.

Meanwhile, in the Internet era, some well-known Japanese enterprises have failed to keep up with the times. Their products lack innovation and fall short of consumers' demands. High-tech enterprises such as China's Huawei and South Korea's Samsung have surpassed their Japanese counterparts in many fields. Chinese high-speed trains have gained the upper hand over Japan's Shinkansen.

Nonetheless, Japanese enterprises have enjoyed a good reputation over the past decades and they still have the advantages in delicate work and management. Therefore, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts to highlight these superior skills at the TICAD. This indicates that Japan now has fewer economic stakes in developing ties with Africa.

But even some Japanese media held that some of the core technologies Japan masters are not applicable to Africa's infrastructural development.

If Japan forcibly promotes these technologies in Africa, it will be a hard sell, which not only doesn't tally with Africa's demands, but is also unacceptable to African countries. Japan in the end will be frustrated.

Abe is keen to resume Japan's position as a big global power. But given the global economic downturn and Japan's current situation, it's impossible for Africa to gain many economic benefits from Japan, a country that is plagued by a severe aging society and a sharp declining population. There is a huge gap between Abe' political dream and reality.

Dazzling policies that aim to propel the rise of Japan but are divorced from Japan's reality seemingly can make instant gains, but they can hardly bring Japan any real benefits. This deserves the vigilance of the Japanese public.

The author is a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University.

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