Academic journal article South Asian Studies

An Assessment of Japan's ODA to Bangladesh: Changing to a New Height of Relations

Academic journal article South Asian Studies

An Assessment of Japan's ODA to Bangladesh: Changing to a New Height of Relations

Article excerpt


Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) has long played an important role in Japan's diplomacy, contributing significantly toward stability and economic development of less developed nations of Asia. This paper analyzes Japan's ODA to Bangladesh, focusing specifically on its transformation over the past three decades in response to the changing needs and priorities of the two countries. The paper highlights the uniqueness of Japanese ODA to Bangladesh and critically examines the gaps between policy and practice that occasionally hindered effective utilization of ODA. It suggests new directions that Japan's ODA may take in the future, more compatible and mutually beneficial to the goals and interests pursued by the two countries.

Keywords: Japan, ODA Policy, Bilateral Relations, Changing Trends, Bangladesh


Japan now has more than fifty years of ODA history that evolved gradually in a comprehensive manner over a period marked by a mix of economic, political and humanitarian considerations. Starting with war reparation through its affiliation with the Colombo Plan1 in 1954, Japan eventually became the number one ODA donor in the world in 1989. The amount of Japan's ODA peaked in 1997, and then started to decline beginning in 2000 (MOFA, 2005). In fact, Japan's ODA entered a new era with the announcement of five consecutive medium-term plans that covered the years 1977-1991. Under this program, Japan's ODA increased and diversified in many ways. Some salient features of Japan's ODA during that time were concentration on the environment and Basic Human Needs (BHN) as its Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) set guidelines for the environment in 1989 and increased ODA for Basic Human Needs from 10% in 1977 to 23% in 1978. Cooperation with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) also started in 1989 as grant assistance for grassroots projects expanded. Indeed, the movement toward the formulation of basic ODA philosophies was initiated during that period.

The Government of Japan revised the ODA Charter in August 2003 aiming to strengthen its efficiency and enhance strategic value while encouraging public participation and deepening understanding of ODA policy both within and outside of Japan. The main purpose of the new ODA charter as stated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) was "to contribute to the peace and development of the international community and thereby to help ensure Japan's own security and prosperity" (MOFA, 2003). It was from such motivation that Japan's relations with South Asia took a new turn and started to develop in new significance and meaning.

Japan's ODA relations with South Asia became more visible in the 1990s (Vishwanathan, 2000). However, Japan's perceptions of the countries of South Asia are of poverty, high growth rate of population, sharp rural-urban divide, and poor infrastructure hindering economic growth. Simultaneously, Japan appreciates the efforts made by these countries to carry out democratic and economic reforms and self-help measures. Hence, the South Asian region assumed an important place in Japan's ODA during the 1990s.The grassroots grant assistance in small-scale projects in the 1990s also showed an increasing number of NGOs, local governments and hospitals throughout South Asia. In fact, new relationships between Japan and South Asian countries started to boost cooperation within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as well2. Now ODA is playing a vital role representing Japan in this region. Considering ODA as a means of communication, from the very beginning, Japan's ODA has been used as the country's main way of entering the South Asian region (Gamini, 2006). As a result, development, environmental issues and poverty alleviation were given extra attention by Japan (Gamini, 2006:105).

However, the first phase of Japan's ODA, in the 1970s, can be identified as a relief and rehabilitation period. …

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