Selling Africa: Japan's G8 Politics and Its Africa Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Japan has been an important actor in Africa's international relations over the past two decades, although its role tends to be understated in most analyses of Africa's ties with the large powers. This article reviews one facet of Japan's engagement with the continent, as enacted through the platform of the Group of 8. There have been significant overlaps between Japan's Africa diplomacy and its wider multilateral objectives and, since the end of the Cold War, the G8 has been an important forum where these aspects have converged. The article assesses past patterns and contemporary dynamics in the evolving relations between Japan and the continent. KEYWORDS: Japan, Africa, Group of 8, Official Development Assistance, T1CAD, multilateral diplomacy.

JAPAN'S ECONOMIC AND AID RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AFRICAN CONTINENT has been highly variable over the past two decades, shaped by changing foreign policy objectives and internal political conditions in Japan as well as reorientations and expressions of agency in African diplomacy. In recent years, the emergence of new players from Asia in Africa's economy and politics (most notably the People's Republic of China) has largely overshadowed the role that Japan has played on the continent; this eclipse of Japan has been reinforced by the country's relative decline as a major aid power.

Yet Japan remains an important partner for the continent as the source of a significant volume of development assistance and, for some African countries, of investments in key sectors. In the past, Japan has also put its status as a member of the Group of 8 (G8) to effective diplomatic and strategic use in its relations with the African continent. It was on the initiative of the government of Japan as host of the Okinawa summit in 2000, for instance, that African leaders were first invited to be present at 08 proceedings, an early progenitor of the G8's later Outreach Program. Following and sometimes setting the example for Western 08 members, Japanese leaders also tended to use the G8 venue for pronouncements about Africa's plight and for pledges of aid doubling.

Although the reality has been somewhat different, such pronouncements and many of the diplomatic actions that have flowed from the G8 summits have linked in significant ways with other facets of Japan's ties with Africa. In this brief article, I reflect on the past patterns and contemporary dynamics of Japan's relationship with the African continent through the prism of Japan's G8 and wider multilateral politics. I consider some of the substantive underpinnings of this relationship and the way in which they relate to key political processes under way in both Japan and Africa. I focus on Japan's bilateral and multilateral engagements with the continent, the significance of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) process, and the manner in which the rise of the new powers, along with other geopolitical shifts, is helping to reshape Japan's ties with Africa.

Over the years Japan has often used the G8 as one among a number of multilateral forums to signal foreign policy orientations and distinctions, of which activism around African development issues was a key component. In this regard, Japan's Africa diplomacy has at times converged with--in fact, reinforced--the country's 08 politics. By adopting certain rhetorical stances on the "cause" of Africa, Japan has found ways to express its (now possibly dwindling) middlepowership. Questions about the future of the G8 have implications not only for Japan's claim as a major power, but indeed also for the way in which the country seeks to operationalize objectives around Africa.

Trends and Dynamics in Japan-Africa Relations

The recent history of Japan's involvement with Africa reflects a curious mix of aloofness, paternalism, pragmatism, and--most recently shaped by Japanese foreign policy ambitions--rapprochement and partnership. …