Magazine article African Business

China, Japan Square Up over Africa

Magazine article African Business

China, Japan Square Up over Africa

Article excerpt

Will China and Japan come to blows over Africa? When I visited the TICAD V conference in Yokohama, Japan, last year, I and many of the 40 or so African heads of state who attended were pleasantly surprised when Japanese premier, Shinzo Abe, announced a $36bn package of aid and investments for Africa. He also promised to visit the continent, which would have the first time for a Japanese leader to do so in over eight years.

He also made very pleasant noises about how Africa could be a 'partner' in Japan's current campaign to return to vigorous growth. When he was asked the inevitable question of whether Japan's new thrust was to counter the massive Chinese influence in Africa, he dismissed the suggestion and implied that there was no possibility of a clash between the two.

Earlier this year while attending the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, I noticed an increasing prickliness about Japan in the local media. One of the papers, the China Daily, carried a cartoon showing Abe 'rewriting history', having bound and gagged a figure representing 'history'. The tone of the cartoon was meant to be insulting.

China and Japan have had serious fallings out in recent times over several issues. First came clashes over disputed islands in the East China sea; then China condemned Abe for visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honours Japan's war dead and which the Chinese see as a symbol of Japanese aggression during World War II when Japan occupied parts of China and South Korea, followed by the Chinese ambassador in the UK comparing Japan to the evil Voldemort from the Harry Potter series for what he describes as an unacceptably aggressive attitude following Abe's decision to re-militarise his country.

But the sparks really began to fly during Abe's visit to three African countries: Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire and Mozambique. China has of course poured billions of dollars into Africa and trade with Africa reached $180bn in 2012. China sees Africa as a vital component of its growth strategy, both for resources as well as a burgeoning new market. Its influence in the continent is now greater than that of any other foreign entity, including the West. …

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