During this year’s TICAD summit, Japan appeared to woo its African counterparts by emphasizing what China has long been criticized for: shoddy quality of projects. Speaking with African heads of state in Nairobi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not name China but certainly alluded to the issue of quality. He asserted, “It is Japanese companies that are committed to quality…our hunch is that the time has come to make the best of Japan’s capabilities…for the advancement of Africa, where you seek nothing but quality in your socio-economic development.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seemed enthusiastic about his commitment to quality projects in Africa and traveled to Nairobi with 75 Japanese companies interested in the continent. In addition to brands such as Toyota and Fuji, producers of cosmetics, noodles, sweets, artificial hair and medicines were also included. During this conference, Japan also promised 30 billion USD in public and private support for infrastructure development, education and healthcare expansion in the continent. This is supposed to be administered in a three-year time frame. About 500 million USD is slated for vocational training of 50,000 African youths, in an effort to help them enter formal economies and dissuade them from joining terrorist groups.
Compared to China’s recent commitment of 60 billion USD, Japan’s financial promise is of course much lower. Japan’s trade with Africa is also behind that of China. Reports indicate that Japan’s trade with Africa in 2015 stood at 24 billion USD, whereas the trade between China and Africa hovered at around 179 billion USD.
Analysts suggest that Japan has more than mere economic interests in Africa. It is also reported that it seeks African votes in order to become a member of the much coveted United Nations Security Council, where China has veto rights. Support from African nations would certainly boost Japan’s bid as 54 of the 193 United Nations member states are African nations, representing about 28 percent of the organization. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said that he would support African representation in the Security Council, signaling mutual assistance in obtaining influence within the United Nations. Giving his opening address at TICAD, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appealed to African leaders saying, “…the enormous continent of Africa has given no permanent member to the United Nations Security Council…please accept my complete support on this point…reform of the United Nations Security Council is truly a goal that Japan and Africa hold in common. I call on everyone here to walk together towards achieving it.”
China, a longstanding rival of Japan, was keen to point out Japan’s political intensions. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed her disappointment saying, “Regrettably, during the 6th TICAD held last week in Kenya, Japan attempted to impose its will on African countries to gain selfish interests and drive a wedge between China and African countries.”