Japan-China aid competition?

Julian Ryall / DW No Comments Share:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and China’s President Xi Jinping pose for pictures at an APEC Summit. Reuters

Japan is rethinking the ways in which its official development assistance is provided to developing nations in order to promote its vision for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific strategy’. DW’s Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo.

Japan is rethinking the ways in which its official development assistance is provided to developing nations in order to promote its vision for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific strategy’. DW’s Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. Japan’s net official development assistance (ODA) comes to around $10.4 billion a year, representing 0.2 percent of gross national income and making Japan the fourth largest donor nation in the world and the largest in Asia.

Yet, Tokyo finds itself in competition with China, which has deeper pockets and fewer scruples about the governments that it chooses to support.

The Japanese government’s decision to rethink its ODA policies is clearly in response to China’s aggressive use of its economic might in the Asia-Pacific region, with Beijing providing vast sums to developing nations and announcing vast development plans, such as the “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)”.

First outlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, BRI puts China at the center of a growing network of transportation and trade links that will ultimately stretch to encompass more than 60 nations.

Concerned at Beijing’s growing economic and political influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, Japan has forged new links with the United States, Australia and India – an informal grouping referred to as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – in order to provide a counterweight to China.

And there are many who say the pushback against Chinese efforts to exert more and more pressure over smaller countries is not a moment too soon.

Despite signs of slowing growth, the scope and scale of emerging donor activity has increased markedly over the past few years. According to a study conducted by global development platform Devex, emerging donors could contribute close to 20 percent of total foreign aid by 2020, up from an estimated 7-10 percent in 2012.

“In comparison with Japan and the ODA budgets of other countries, Beijing clearly uses its aid budget for its own narrow strategic objectives,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“Japan has traditionally believed its aid should be spent on programs that help people in less-developed parts of the world to improve their standards of living,” he told DW.

According to Japan’s foreign ministry, Tokyo’s primary development goals include eradicating poverty, ensuring “zero hunger,” promoting health, education, gender equality and providing water, sanitation, clean energy, infrastructure and employment opportunities.

In contrast, Mr Shimada claims, Beijing’s foreign aid has one objective – to create jobs for Chinese corporations and to advance its own “narrow global ambitions”. He points out that China does not release statistics on the foreign aid that it provides as the figures are considered state secrets. Estimates suggest that China disbursed $354.3 billion in the 15 years up to 2014, which comes close to rivalling the $394.6 billion the US provided in the same time period.

The data suggests that China actually spends more on ODA than the US on an annual basis, while it is estimated that Beijing is financially supporting more than 4,300 projects in 140 countries around the world.

Mr Shimada points out that the three largest recipients of Chinese assistance in the 15 years to 2014 were Pakistan, Russia and Angola. It is no coincidence, he stresses, that China is very keen to obtain natural resources from Russia’s Far East region, that Angola has large amounts of natural resources and acts as a foothold onto the entire African continent, and that Pakistan is a fierce rival of India, with which Beijing is also locked in a dispute over territories along their frontier.

This feature first appeared at http://www.dw.com

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