By Subrata Majumder
After winning the bullet train battle in Indonesia, China has become suspicious of Japan in terms of the development of African economy. It suspects that the real aim of Indo-Japan joint partnership for Asia-Africa –Growth Corridor (AAGC) initiative to be an attempt for disruption of the Chinese Belt & Road initiative (B&R). Neither Japan nor India is a member of B&T. According to Chinese daily Global Times, “the two countries are trying to counterbalance the Belt & Road initiative with the AAGC plan”.
During the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Japan in November 2016, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe committed to the joint development of Africa and to explore specific joint projects in the areas of training, capacity building, health infrastructure and connectivity.
China was not averse to a solo role for India in the development of the African economy. In fact, China lauded Modi’s visit to Africa in mid-2016 and hailed it as a consolidation of India’s influence in region. It did not consider India a foe and a competitor; instead , it recognized India’s efforts as complementary. China saw Modi’s Africa visit as having the potential for Sino – India cooperation in Africa. The Global Times said: “China can provide investment and technology, while India has been doing well in people –to– people interactions”. It further said,“ If India’s interactions with African countries can bring momentum to local development, China will benefit from such moves.”
Against this backdrop, China’s provocation against Indo-Japan joint partnership for Africa is a surprise to many. Did the historical enmity between Japan and China underpin the provocation? Or is pushing Africa into the BRICS fold the main aim of China’s provocation? China urged that three members of BRICS- India, South Africa and China – have common interests in Africa, while Japan is not a member of BRICS. The Global Times said, “As members of BRICS mechanism, China, India and South Africa have been keenly pursuing economic cooperation and reconstructing global orders.”
Till 2015, Japan’s relation with Africa was promiscuous and Africa was peripheral to Japanese growth trajectory of trade and investment. Japan’s focus for African relation was merely to enlist African support for UN Security Council reform and resist China’s prowess in the South China sea. Focuses on economic support and economic cooperation were at the backbench.
It was in 2016, when the 6th TICUD summit (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) made a turning point for Japan’s focus in Africa. So far, it was a formal engagement and the conferences were held always in Tokyo. For the first time, the 6thTICAD conference was held in Nairobi in August 2016 under the initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, accompanied by over 100 Japanese business honchos.
In the Forum, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged US$ 30 billion for the development of infrastructure in the continent over a period of three years. Abe’s investment pledge demonstrated a broader shift in Japan’s policy in Africa. It connoted a shift from aid to trade and investment, reflecting economic partnership, according to the Council of Foreign Trade.
Japan’s pledge was the biggest challenge to China as the Asian giant had already established a strong foundation of its economic might in Africa. In 2015, at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged more than US$ 60 billion investment in the continent. It topped the list of FDI capital investment in Africa, sharing 39 percent of the total investments in 2016, as compared to merely 3 percent by Japanese investors.
India has also upped the ante. During 2011 to 2014, India invested some US$ 15 billion in ventures in Africa. Even though India’s investments are much lower than that of China and Japan, India’s leadership and its ethnic relation with Africa edge out the influences of Japan and China.
India has a special relation with Africa. It has established a long-term and non-controversial people-to-people relation because of its ethnic inhabitance. Nearly 3 million Indian ethnics and NRIs are inhabitants in South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia.
These Indians hold big stakes in the business operations in Africa and have become key drivers for African economic development. Interestingly, a large number of them are from Gujarat. Close people-to-people interactions between India and Africa and the charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is himself a Gujarati, led the Japanese to tilt towards India for the joint partnership for AACG.
Historically, East and Southern Africa are the centre for Indian descendants. However, in terms of trade, five African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania and Nigeria) are the major trading partners of India. More than half of India’s export to Africa is shipped to these five countries.
China might have been the biggest stake holder in terms of FDI in Africa, but it lagged in people-to-people proximity. Also, China’s presence in Africa is not without controversy. Some African countries have alleged that Chinese business practices overpowered the local safety and environment standards and that the Chinese engaged in unfair business practices indulging in violation of local labour laws. Criticisms were also levelled against Chinese investment practices, which were confined to extracting sectors, such as energy, without focusing on development of the domestic economy. In 2013, the then Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Sansui Lamido Sansui, wrote in an article, “Africa must recognize that China- like USA, Russia, Brazil, and the rest- is in Africa not for African interests , but its own”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Look Africa drive and people-to-people affinity can be viewed as a star attraction for Japan for the joint partnership with India, with a view to escalating Japan’s new outlook towards Africa. The Asia-Africa –Growth Corridor (AAGC) initiative is the first such mandate for Japan’s new initiative in Africa. Thus, India has become a pivot to Japan for its new-look to Africa policy and China for its attempt to bring Africa into the BRICS fold.