BY REIJI YOSHIDA @japantimes
YOKOHAMA – A three-day conference on African development kicked off Wednesday in Yokohama, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to aggressively promote private-sector investment in Africa in his opening speech but failed to set a new numerical target on funds to be funneled to the continent.
Facing dozens of top African leaders at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, Abe claimed the Japanese private sector invested $20 billion in Africa over the past three years.
“I make this pledge to you. The government of Japan will put forth every possible effort so that the power of Japanese private investment of $20 billion in three years should, in the years to come, be surpassed anew from one day to the next,” Abe said, although he did not mention any specific investment goal.
“We will do whatever it takes to assist the advancement of Japanese companies into Africa. New TICAD will provide limitless support” for investment and entrepreneurship, Abe said.
However, experts say many Japanese firms still remain reluctant to invest in Africa, which at one time made it almost impossible for Abe to meet his earlier pledge for Japanese investments on the continent.
In the previous TICAD meeting in 2016, Abe pledged that the Japanese government and private businesses combined would invest a total of $30 billion dollars in Africa over the following three years.
Now Japanese Foreign Ministry officials claim that Tokyo has met the $30 billion target, as the government extended official development assistance totaling $10 billion and the Japanese private sector invested $25.6 billion in Africa during that period.
But the goal was met only after the Foreign Ministry recently changed how it measured the investment, from using a net basis to a gross basis, which considerably boosted the total figure. Ministry officials claimed the gross total is more appropriate, because net investment does not include certain funds such as dividends paid by African subsidiaries to the parent company in Japan.
Later in the day, the ministry announced that the top leaders of 42 African countries are participating in the latest TICAD, the highest number since 2008 when 41 took part in TICAD 4. By top leaders the ministry is referring to either a head of a state, president, vice president or prime minister.
Japan is competing with many other countries advancing into growing African economies, in particular China, which last year pledged as much as $60 billion to extend economic assistance over the next three years. In his speech Wednesday, Abe emphasized that Japan will expand cooperation to develop Africa’s human resources, improve elementary education for children and help establish universal health care coverage.
He also added that Tokyo hopes African countries will cooperate with Japan to carry out United Nations Security Council reforms, alluding to Tokyo’s long-held aspiration to become a permanent member of the powerful U.N. body.
Abe noted that he hopes to cooperate with African countries to “safeguard the Indo-Pacific, which connects Africa and Japan,” based on “the rule of law.” This appears to be an allusion to Abe’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” initiative to keep Beijing’s growing clout in the region in check, although he didn’t elaborate any further.
Earlier in the day, Abe, who serves as co-chair of this year’s TICAD sessions, met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Yokohama. According to Japan’s the Foreign Ministry, the two agreed to prepare for a possible September meeting between Abe and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations annual General Assembly.
Abe also urged Iran not to take measures that would further erode the 2016 nuclear deal that froze Tehran’s nuclear program, according to Japanese officials.