From August 27 to August 28 this year, the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, TICAD, was held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. This is arguably the most important measure taken by Japan to strengthen its trade and economic, political, and eventually military positions on the African continent.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed the Japanese delegation, while the leaders of Africa’s 54 countries represented the African delegation. The TICAD-VI was attended by 74 international and regional organizations.
This conference is held every three years. The one preceding this one (dubbed TICAD-V) was held in June 2013, in Yokohama, and saw the adoption of two joint documents: the Yokohama Declaration 2013, and the Yokohama Action Plan 2013-2017. In fact, one of the main discussion points at TICAD-VI focused on the progress achieved in fulfilling the objectives stated in these documents.
The Japanese Government constantly monitored the preparations for the next TICAD. An important step was a meeting between S. Abe with some of the African leaders, which took place on September 26, 2015 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, as well as within the framework of another important forum – (Japan-African Regional Economic Communities, JAREC).
As a result of TICAD-VI, an extensive joint Declaration was adopted, in paragraph 1.4 of which the participants did “confirm that today, TICAD is a unique platform that is making a significant contribution to African development and integration” on the continent.
Stating the “continuous progress” in the implementation of the Yokohama Action Plan, the authors of the present Declaration are calling on all conference participants to speed up the process on “full implementation” of the principal guidelines of this document. Three years later, their relevance to the actual problems in Africa is being confirmed.
Nevertheless, three main challenges were formulated that have now become the basis for the “Plan”: the fall in commodity prices of the main export products for many African countries; the dangerous impact on the socio-economic situation of the spread of the Ebola virus on the continent; the strengthening of radical movements, terrorism and armed conflicts.
Taking into account these challenges and building upon the Yokohama Plan, the conference participants agreed that there is need to further focus on three ‘pillar’ directions: the promotion of structural economic transformation through economic diversification and the industrializatio
Further “strict control over the implementation” of the set of measures prescribed in the Plan three years ago, is the responsibility of the Joint Secretariat, Joint Monitoring Committee and the interim (prior to TICAD-VII, which will be held again in Japan in 2019) meetings of the representatives of the participating countries.
Speaking at the opening of the conference, Prime Minister Abe reminded the participants that in the TICAD’s 23 years of existence, Japan has already invested $47 billion in various projects on the African continent, and that in the next three years the Asian country will allocate a further $30 billion.
In a sensational speech saturated with obvious and hidden meanings, Abe particularly paid a great deal of attention on the thesis of “sense of accountability that Japan is bringing” for the situation in Asia and Africa, as well as on issues relating to the Pacific and Indian region. Addressing the African participants of the conference, he said in particular that “Japan is willing to work together with you on transforming the seas of the world to be ruled by laws and creating a mutual corridor connecting the two continents.”
Important to note is the fact that Japan has used similar rhetoric in recent years (and its closest ally, the US) in a public swordplay with China on the causes of the deterioration of the situation in the South China Sea and South-East Asia as a whole. It is highly unlikely that the announcement by the Japanese Prime Minister in relation to the Indian Ocean and the African continent was proclaimed in a non-systematic fashion.
The fact is that in recent years, China has demonstrated clear progress in the development of its multilateral relations with the same African countries, as well as in the establishment of reference points on the sea routes connecting Asia to Africa. And the full speed at which the Sino-Japanese struggle for influence in the Asian countries has now extended to the African continent can hardly go unnoticed.
It is important to recall, that toward the end of last year, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, held a no less than triumphal tour in a number of African countries. He ended the tour by attending a regular forum in Johannesburg, dubbed ‘Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, FOCAC, which was formed in 2000.
Speaking to his colleagues from African countries, Xi Jinping that time declared China’s readiness to allocate an additional $60 bn within the next three years, for the purposes of implementing several targeted programs. To date, China has already implemented 2,600 projects on the continent, totaling $94 bn.
In their struggle “for the hearts and minds” of the population of this extremely important continent, the two leading Asian powers are using the most effective ‘weapon’ in this case – providing the much-needed assistance in the development of industrial and transport infrastructure, agriculture and the fight against large-scale infectious diseases, as well as training qualified personnel in various spheres of activity.
At the same time, China and Japan are demonstrably probing the ground for the proliferation of this assistance and in matters relating to the provision and maintenance of security.
In particular, traces of such soundings are reviewed in the sections of the Declaration dealing on the results of the Nairobi TICAD-VI forum, which talk about the need for a joint fight against terrorism and extremism, as well as to ensure security at sea.
Under the pretext of “combating piracy at sea”, since 2013, Japan (following Chinese footsteps) has been deploying a military base in Djibouti, that is, on the Horn of Africa. The problem of its control is a factor which carries strategic importance due to the proliferation in the Indian Ocean region of the geopolitical game unfolding in the Asia-Pacific region.
In assessing the results of the TICAD-VI, they should be attributed to the indisputable successes of Japanese foreign policy in general. This is evidenced by at least the fact that Abe has once again enlisted the support of African countries in dealing with one of his central foreign policy objectives, predicated by (and probably inevitably) the reorganization of the UN Security Council which saw the entry of Japan in this important international body, and its assuming of the full rights of a permanent member state.
Naturally, such a large-scale event that was organized by a geopolitical opponent could not fail to draw attention within China, where comments on the TICAD-VI are made from the viewpoint of the “China-Japanese rivalry that extends to Africa”
Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on issues relating to the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”