Japan Promotes Indo-Pacific in African Strategic Thinking
Dr Vijay Sakhuja

In his opening address at the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), Prime Minister Abe sought support from the African nations to join hands with Japan and work together to “safeguard the Indo-Pacific, which connects Africa and Japan, with great care as an ‘international public good’ permeated by the rule of law”.1 He was also successful in including Indo-Pacific in the Yokohama Declaration issued at the end of the summit level conference focusing on ‘grant aids and technical assistance’ under the Japan-Africa cooperation mechanism started in 1993. 2 The event was attended by 36 leaders and government representatives from 53 African nations and many international organisations including the UN who gathered at Yokohama, Japan.

The Yokohama Declaration was carefully drafted to include ‘Indo-Pacific’ yet skillfully skirted the word ‘support’; instead chose to include the expression ‘take good note’3 to convey an affirmative meaning. This could possibly have been at the insistence of some of the participating countries that are close to China who are careful not to antagonize it. Also, Indo-Pacific may not be of much relevance to those astride the west coast of Africa and look towards the Atlantic Ocean as their strategic space. It is important to mention that the participants were not unfamiliar with Indo-Pacific and had been socialized with the concept (confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and of Asia and Africa) by Prime Minister Abe during the 6th TICAD in Nairobi in August 2016.4

Leaving aside the ‘niceties and protocols’ and the subtle ‘signalese’ that are part of diplomacy at such Summit level events, Indo-Pacific has relevance and importance in the strategic thinking of the East and Southern African littorals. Their shores are washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean which has now been connected with the Pacific Ocean for the purpose of a new space for strategic discourse. Indo-Pacific has been adopted and internalized by at least five important Asian and Pacific powers i.e. Australia, India, Japan, Republic of Korea and the US and four of these also constitute the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the ‘Quad’. The ASEAN is yet to formally adopt Indo-Pacific but is currently deliberating on its own vision document ‘ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’ (AOIP) which was released at the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok a few months ago. China has dismissed the concept and has accused the US of targeting it. The Chinese media, particularly the Global Times, has labeled Indo-Pacific as an overt ‘containment strategy’ by the West against China.4

In a distinct departure from the mandate of the TICAD which essentially focuses on ‘grant aids and technical assistance’, three important issues concerning the seas and oceans have appeared in the Yokohama Declaration: (a) cooperation for maritime security; (b) a rules-based maritime order in accordance with the principles of international law/1982 UNCLOS; and (c) ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP).6 What prompted ‘Japan to include’, and the ‘African states to agree’ reference to these issues in the Yokohama Declaration? At least five arguments merit attention.

First, Japan is a maritime nation and it has consistently supported international efforts to combat maritime crime and illegal activities at sea. It has been closely associated with the ReCAAP located in Singapore7 and its capacity building of smaller maritime states is noteworthy. Given that 45 of the 53 African nations are maritime states and the balance eight8 are land locked yet dependent on the seas through the coastal states, it is natural for African states to accept maritime security issues in the Yokohama Declaration. Also, the Gulf of Aden in East of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea to the West are well known piracy hotspots.

Second, Japan’s engagement in Gulf of Aden is on account of its commitment to international efforts to counter Somali piracy. It set up a base in Djibouti9 in 2011 for which it pays US $30 million annually to the host government. The base acts as a hub for operations throughout the East African coastline and is home to some 600 personnel of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) who are deployed to support anti-piracy operations in the region. Japan now plans to hold a Special Conference on Promoting of Cooperation in the Western Indian Ocean,10

Third, Japan wishes to promote blue economy and support strengthening connectivity in the continent. According to Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs, the country invested US$ 20 billion in the continent from 2016-2018.11 It is the top investor in Kenya and is involved in the expansion of the Mombasa Port, the 1,545 kilometer Northern Corridor from Mombasa to Burundi, and the 6,259 kilometer long Fourth Trans-African Highway connecting Mombasa port in the east to and Lagos, Nigeria in the west.12 During the 7th TICAD Prime Minister Abe assured the visiting leaders that over the next three years Japan's private sector would invest US$20 billion in Africa.13

Fourth, Japan wants to make a strong case and seek support for ensuring Indian Ocean is ‘free and open’ and ‘rule of law’ prevails. Although there are as yet no signs or indicators that the Indian Ocean is not ‘free and open’, but the thought merits attention given that there are some hot spots particularly the Straits of Hormuz that could potentially turn turbulent in case the US-Iran tensions spiral into a conflict and Tehran blocks the strait for free movement of commerce. This idea is also driven by the fact that the contemporary discourse of ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) an ‘rule of law’ is already resonating and challenges the Chinese illegal occupation of islands and features in the South China Sea and aggressive posturing in its waters.

Fifth, Japan may be hoping to invigorate the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) as an attractive option for coastal states of Africa. Although AAGC has not taken deep roots yet but the deliberations on ‘India-Japan Cooperation for Development of Africa’ held in India in 2017 were aimed at India’s and Japan’s coordinated Indo-Pacific vision of 2025.

Finally, it is fair to argue that Japan may be competing with China in Africa despite the fact it has been engaged in the continent since 1993. Also, the AAGC is seen by some as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China is slowing carving a pie into the port development projects particularly along the east coast of Africa. In Djibouti, it was able to swing in its favour contract for the operation of Doraleh Container Terminal (DCT) that was unilaterally terminated ostensibly under Chinese pressure and in April 2019, a London court awarded DP World US$ 533 million in compensation. 14 Another setback for China has been in Bagamayo port project in Tanzania China in which it agreed to fund nearly US$ 10 billion. Three months ago, President John Magufuli accused China of “exploitative and awkward” terms for the project including “a guarantee of 33 years and a lease of 99 years”.15 China has now decided to write-off debts, plans to renegotiate contentious contracts and has even agreed to defer payments.

However, the Japan-China contestation in Africa must be tampered with the new Chinese thinking of collaborative projects with Asian countries. It has invited Japan to join and develop project in third country and both countries are planning to sign memorandums of understanding on 20 to 30 projects. This is sure to benefit the African nations.

  1. Keynote Address by the Prime Minister at the Opening Session of the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VII), August 28, 2019, https://japan.kantei.go.jp/98_abe/statement/201908/_00006.html (accessed 03 September 2019).
  2. ‘Yokohama Declaration 2019 Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation’ 30 August, 2019, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/africa/ticad/ticad7/pdf/yokohama_declaration_en.pdf (accessed 03 September 2019).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Opening Session of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) (Saturday, August 27, 2016), Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), Nairobi, Kenya https://www.mofa.go.jp/afr/af2/page4e_000496.html (accessed 03 September 2019).
  5. Cao Siq, “Pompeo eyes Indo-Pacific vision in ASEAN”, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1113775.shtml (accessed 02 September 2019).
  6. ‘Yokohama Declaration 2019 Advancing Africa’s Development through People, Technology and Innovation’ 30 August, 2019, https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/africa/ticad/ticad7/pdf/yokohama_declaration_en.pdf (accessed 03 September 2019).
  7. For more details see “About ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre”, http://www.recaap.org/about_ReCAAP-ISC (accessed 02 September 2019).
  8. Botswana. Burkina Faso. Burundi. Central African Republic. Chad. Ethiopia. Lesotho. Malawi.
  9. Japan had an initial area of 12 hectares, accommodation for 180 JSDF and coastguard personnel, and an aircraft apron and hangar and this infrastructure was built at a cost of US$ 40 million. For more details see Neil Melvin, “The Foreign Military Presence in the Horn Of Africa Region”, SIPRI Background Paper, April 2019, https://sipri.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/sipribp1904.pdf (accessed 03 September 2019).
  10. “Japan-Djibouti Summit Meeting”, https://www.mofa.go.jp/af/af1/dj/page25e_000324.html (accessed 03 September 2019).
  11. Satoshi Iizuka and Reito Kaneko, “Abe vows Japan investment of over $20 billion to Africa in 3 years”, Kyodo News, 28 August 2019, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/08/b0a567765274-update2-abe-vows-to-boost-investment-in-africa-as-leaders-from-continent-gather.html (accessed 03 September 2019).
  12. “Japan joins world powers in scramble for African growth”, https://www.the-star.co.ke/sasa/2019-07-27-japan-joins-world-powers-in-scramble-for-african-growth/ (accessed 29 August 2019). Also see “Mombasa port expansion gets $340m boost from Japan”, http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/mombasa-port-expansion-gets-340m-boost-japan/ (accessed 29 August 2019).
  13. Satoshi Iizuka and Reito Kaneko, “Abe vows Japan investment of over $20 billion to Africa in 3 years”, Kyodo News, 28 August 2019, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/08/b0a567765274-update2-abe-vows-to-boost-investment-in-africa-as-leaders-from-continent-gather.html (accessed 03 September 2019).
  14. “Djibouti Ordered to Pay DP World $530M in Port Dispute”, https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/djibouti-ordered-to-pay-dp-world-530m-in-port-dispute (accessed 29 August 2019).
  15. “Tanzania Suspends $10B Bagamoyo Port Project”, https://www.enr.com/articles/47134-tanzania-suspends-bagamoyo-port-project?v=preview (accessed 29 August 2019).

(Dr Vijay Sakhuja is former Director National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi)

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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