Minister Chang Wanquan (R)
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan (R) meets with Deputy Defense Minister of Malawi Vincent Winstone Ghambi in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 12, 2016. (Xinhua/Liu Fang)

The continuously rising Sino-Japanese competition in Africa – which had recently become a new theater for the two countries to play out their fierce rivalry – has been going on for a while and doesn’t seem to come to halt any sooner. In fact, it is quite heating up as they jostle to win over Africa through influence and billion-dollar worth of aid.

The contest begun when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a 30-billion-dollars worth of public and private support for the African development during the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) – a conference that Japan co-sponsors together with the United Nations and the African Union which was held in Nairobi, Kenya on the 27th and 28th of August 2016. In addition, 10 billion dollars was allocated for infrastructure projects in cooperation with the African Development Bank.

This, Japan’s heightened contribution to African development, was seen by China negatively instead of regarding it as a positive sign of enhanced international efforts. Condemning its rival’s act of generosity, it had made an accusation that “Japan attempted to impose its wills on African countries to gain selfish interests and drive a wedge between China and Africa.”

However, more than the issues over the TICAD VI, the competition seems to be rooted more deeply to a number of reasons: such as maritime security issues, political influence and military expansion, and natural resources.

While the ongoing rivalry is proving hard to put down as both parties are very eager to gain interests over the continent, the question is: who will win – Japan with its massive aid packages or China which claims to have a strong relationship with Africa.

Quality

Since 2013, Tokyo has pledged a total of 62 billion dollars to Africa. However, this was easily shadowed by China’s 90 billion-dollar worth of donation since 2012.

But PM Abe is not referring to the monetary donation (as Japanese government cannot afford to boost foreign aid because of its tight fiscal conditions) but to the quality of such.

Unconcerned by the discrepancy, in his keynote speech during the TICAD VI, he repeatedly stressed that the “quality” and not the “quantity” of the Japanese assistance for African countries is what actually matters to allow “both Japan and Africa to grow together.”

“We have a feeling in our gut that in Africa, where possibilities abound, Japan can grow vigorously.”

Japan’s development assistance, which is reportedly amounting to some 60 projects in African countries, centers not only on infrastructure development (involving ports and road networks) but in diverse fields like agriculture and health care as well. Its focus is on Africa’s three regions such as the areas surrounding Kenya’s Mombasa port in northern Mozambique, surrounding West African nations, and Cote d’Ivoire.

In addition, other projects include the development of natural gas extraction in Mozambique, urban transport network for Nairobi, distribution of medical testing equipment as part of a model project to counter infectious diseases like Ebola, an Africa-wide exchange student program with Japan, and a microloan system for African farmers.

The commitment, which is shifting from aid to investment is partly to counter China’s presence in the continent. Moreover, Japan also wants to gain support from African countries for its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Quantity

Truth be told, economically, Japan has lagged behind China in engagement with Africa.

As shown by its massive billion-of-dollar worth of Sino-African trade, China highly prioritizes Africa in its foreign policy. From $210 million in 2000, the country’s investment grew to $3.17 billion in 2011. Moreover, for the past 26 years, Chinese leaders have been consistent with visiting the continent annually.

Like Japan, China’s projects cover a wide array of fields such as agriculture, health, transportation, and education and are divided into 8 types of aid – complete projects, goods and materials, technical cooperation, medical assistance, emergency humanitarian aid, volunteer programs, and debt relief. Much of these Chinese financing, however, are associated with and are aimed to protect the continent’s natural resources such as oil and other mineral resources.

What weighs more?

Japan, according to former World Bank Economist Takeshi Daimon, despite being overshadowed by China’s huge amount of financial donations was not lost on foreign policy observers as the country’s emphasis on quality has huge economic benefits and investment opportunities in Africa.

China on the other hand, despite its seemingly never-ending generosity to Africa in terms of monetary donations and its leaders’ claims of totally selfless and altruistic assistance, has raised many questions – such as its goal and true nature having a history of using foreign aid as a tool to gain Africa’s diplomatic recognition.

However, at the end of the day, responsible contributions should be judged by the recipient countries. Furthermore, instead of adding Africa to their increasing number of rivalry issues (i.e. Nanking massacre and territorial disputes), both parties should concentrate on improving their own contributions rather than contesting over who gave more.

: