Japan´s Leader Pledges Aid on Africa Tour
14 January 2014
The New York Times by Martin Fackler
Japan´s prime minister finished a three-nation tour of Africa on Monday in which he offered aid and development projects potentially worth billions of dollars to help his nation catch up with China´s enormous footprint on the continent.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said he wants to expand Japan´s presence in Africa, and tap a region that can serve as both a source of minerals and energy for Japan´s industrial economy and a new market for Japanese goods.
Mr. Abe has made Africa one of the centerpieces of a diplomatic push to complement his domestic grow th policies, known as Abenomics, which aim to end Japan´s long economic decline.
By placing more emphasis on Africa, Mr. Abe is throwing Japan into a scramble for resources there that also involves companies from China, the United States and other Western countries. Japan is particularly keen to find new sources of so-called rare earth metals, raw material used in electronics and cellphones that it currently imports mostly from China.
But Japan also finds itself lagging far behind its rival China, which has been investing heavily in Africa for a decade. As if to underscore that rivalry, at the same time that Mr. Abe was in Africa, China´s foreign minister, Wang Yi, was on a four-nation visit to the region.
Japanese officials have said that while they cannot match the $75 billion in development aid that China has poured into Africa since 2000, they hope to close the gap in other ways.
One is to use Japanese aid to train African engineers and technicians, in order to differentiate Japanese efforts from Chinese projects that have been criticized for employing mainly Chinese workers while offering few jobs to Africans.
The tour, which imade stops in Mozambique, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia, also brought an unusual amount of showmanship to Japan´s often drab style of diplomacy. On Friday, Mr. Abe traded jokes and even exchanged soccer jerseys with the president of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara. The next day, Mr. Abe attended a tournament of the Japanese sport of judo in Abidjan.