Abe’s Africa visit to boost global profile

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-1-10 0:38:04

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a weeklong visit to three African countries and Oman to boost Japan's profile in a continent that has seen growing Chinese influence in the past decade.

At the airport in Tokyo, Abe told reporters on Thursday that Africa is a frontier for Japanese diplomacy and the Middle East is extremely important to Japan strategically and in terms of national security, reported NHK.

After a visit to Oman, Abe will take in Cote d'Ivoire, Mozambique and Ethiopia, where he is expected to make a cash pledge and deliver a speech on Japan's Africa policy.

The Africa trip is also aimed at securing oil and gas resources and help Japanese companies explore the African market, according to Kyodo News.

The Africa visit came after Abe wrapped up visits to every Southeast Asian country amid an escalating diplomatic row with China.

Thomas Wheeler, a research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told the Global Times that Japan has had a long-standing relationship with African countries, however, in recent years Japan has had economic problems at the very time when China was starting to play a very high-profile role in Africa.

Wheeler said this visit serves as a "restoration of Japan to the international position Abe believes it deserves."

Geng Xin, an analyst based in Japan, told the Global Times that Tokyo's cozying up to Africa is an endeavor to get rid of its image as an "economic giant and political dwarf," given the continent's role on the multilateral platform and its rich energy resources.

"Japan is longing to become a political power. It is eyeing the votes of African countries in its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as Japan believes African countries' support was a major factor for China's restoration of its UN seat in 1971," he said.

Ahead of Abe's Africa visit, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Monday began a visit to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Ghana and Senegal.

After meeting his Ethiopian counterpart on Monday, Wang criticized "narrow-minded cooperation" with Africa, in which aid was provided for political gains and counterbalance, a remark seen by many as a vague allusion to Tokyo.

Zhang Yongpeng, a research fellow at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Japan started paying attention to Africa after the launch of a forum on China-Africa cooperation in 2000, which ushered in rapid development of China's ties with the continent.

Last June, Abe pledged up to 3.2 trillion yen ($30.47 billion) in public and private assistance to Africa over the next five years.

According to the AFP, the Nikkei Business Daily said Abe is expected to promise 60 million yen in loans to Mozambique for the construction of highways, and some 10 billion yen to Ethiopia for the construction of a geothermal power plant.

Despite Tokyo pouring in money, analysts believe Japan cannot match China's influence in Africa, both economically and politically, in the short term.

A Nikkei report last year said China's direct investment in Africa was seven times that of Japan in 2011. It also said Japan's exports to Africa were only one-fifth of the volume of China's exports to the continent.

"We started to develop bilateral ties six decades ago. In contrast, Japan started late and didn't have an Africa strategy until 2008. It will be hard for it to compete with China in the short term," Zhang said.

Africa is believed to be a land of opportunity for its large untapped markets, which also raised Japanese companies' interest.

Zhang said that wouldn't undermine Chinese investors' dominating role in the market, as Chinese products sold in Africa are mostly low- and medium-end consumer goods . "The structure is not going to change in the next decade," he said.

Posted in: Africa

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