Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe and former finance minister Taro Aso pose for a photo with African Union chairperson and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, other leaders of African nations and representatives of international organisations during the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama, Japan, 28 August 2019 (Photo: Reuters).

Author: Céline Pajon, French Institute of International Relations

Laying the foundation for the Eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi held talks on 28 March 2022 with ministers from 50 African nations. Hayashi expressed concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine had increased the economic and social vulnerabilities of African countries — deepening their dependence on China. He subsequently committed to increase Japan’s cooperation with Africa.

Japan’s economic diplomacy in Africa pursues both economic and geopolitical objectives. Japan aims to catch up with other Asian and Western actors, moving from a focus on official development assistance to a private investment-based approach. It is also in competition with China, aiming to provide an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa.

Tokyo’s support for private business was outlined by Foreign Minister Hayashi as the first of three priorities for the upcoming TICAD in July, and the second Japan–Africa Public–Private Economic Forum has just been held in Nairobi. Beyond this, Japan’s engagement with the African continent is likely to be strengthened in a more political and strategic way.

Japan is concerned that the pandemic will weaken African economies and worsen their dependence on Chinese aid and investment. Tokyo plans to help Africa’s recovery from COVID-19 by preventing sovereign and private debt defaults and building up the fiscal autonomy of African nations. Japan’s policy also promotes international norms of transparency and sustainability in infrastructure financing.

Japan’s policy is part of a balancing strategy vis-a-vis Beijing. Tokyo sees China’s economic expansion as progressing at the expense of human rights and good governance, enabling Beijing to leverage support on key issues like …continue reading