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The transformation of TICAD and the emergence of China

  • The transformation of TICAD and the emergence of China.

By Michiko Kitaba

The 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7) was held on August 28–30, 2019 in Yokohama City. The conference drew forty-two African heads of state and closed with the adoption of the Yokohama Declaration 2019: Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation.

Over the twenty-five years since 1993, when the first conference (TICAD I) was held, TICAD has evolved from assistance programs for African countries after the end of the Cold War in an era of “aid fatigue” among donor countries to the development of new business integrating aid, trade and investment. At TICAD7, private-sector businesses were considered as official partners for the first time and a Public-Private Business Dialogue attended by 300 Japanese companies and organizations and 100 African and third-party-country private-sector businesses was held as a plenary session on August 29.

It was at TICAD V in June 2013 that the TICAD process shifted its focus from humanitarian aid and the promotion of South-South cooperation (Asian-African-relations) to trade and investment, and it was then that TICAD positioned Africa as a “business partner” for the first time. Ahead of the conference, in May, the Public-Private Council for the Promotion of TICAD V was held, resulting in proposals in areas such as the advancement of business, mobilization of ODA, accurate reflection of intergovernment discussions, and, in December of this year, the 1st Public-Private Roundtable Meeting was held. It was subsequently decided that, starting from TICAD VI, Public-Private Roundtable Meeting recommendations would be submitted. It was also decided to increase the frequency of the conference from once every five years to once every three years and TICAD VI in 2016 was held in Nairobi, which was the first time the conference had been held in Africa.

At the time of TICAD VI, the Africa-Japan Relations Committee recommended the “visualization of Japan’s presence” in Africa. Japan began a foreign aid program in 1954, granting aid to Southeast Asia mainly to rebuild the Asian economy and restore diplomatic ties after World War II from a time when economic growth in Japan was still weak. In the early 1980s, Japan’s foreign aid program suddenly increased in scale and Japan’s approach of combining aid and the economic advancement of Japanese businesses started to draw criticism and raise alarm bells. Japan stepped up efforts to fend off criticism and, by the 1990s, Japanese ODA had, if anything, become “faceless” in the sense that it was not clear which country assistance was coming from. In terms of quantity, during the 1990s, Japanese ODA expanded and Japan became the world’s largest aid donor. However, from 2001, Japan surrendered top spot to the United States, and Japan began to cut foreign assistance. The “visibility” recommendation was made based on an awareness of this historical background, the potential of Sub-Saharan Africa, which has experienced growth of 4–7% since 2000, and, above all, expansion of Chinese investment and trade in Africa.

China had already been holding the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) since 2000 and had been moving to build new diplomatic ties with African countries. FOCAC meets once every three years alternately in China and Africa. The change in TICAD’s frequency and format since TICAD V is down to FOCAC. The alternate hosting of FOCAC emphasizes a win-win relationship in which African countries and China treat each other on an equal footing. The shift in TICAD’s approach away from development aid towards business is also largely attributable to China’s success in Africa.

For China, Africa is a source of resources and primary goods and it used to be one of the main battlegrounds for diplomatic competition with Taiwan (R.O.C.). China’s economic ties with Africa strengthened rapidly in the wake of the Go Out Policy in the late 2000s and expanded further as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global development strategy proposed by General Secretary Xi Jinping in 2013. Initially, China’s moves were criticized as “new colonialism” but, as explained earlier, given that African economies actually began to experience high growth and African countries basically welcomed the development of infrastructure through China’s investment, the strong ties between Africa and China have come to represent a constant vector in the global balance of power. Rather than opposing this magnetic field, Japan probably needs to engage in the development of the “Final Frontier,” sometimes cooperating with China, sometimes competing with China.

After the close of TICAD 7, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe described China as “an important actor for Africa’s development” but, at the same time, to check doubts over the “China debt trap,” commented that each project “must ensure that the recipient countries do not become deeply indebted.” The appearance of a player of a different kind, namely China, in the world of development assistance (business), which was previously dominated by advanced countries, is transforming the existing order. However, provided that the rights of the recipient countries to choose, sufficient assessment and information disclosure, and fair competition are protected, this transformation could rebalance power in a constructive direction.

(Michiko Kitaba is Professor at Kansai University.)


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