本文转载自“China Daily”, 原标题为“Aid in doing”，原文首发于2022年12月21日。
China can take some tips from Japan's development assistance to Africa
Amid the significant changes taking place in the global landscape, the world's major countries are attaching increasing importance to Africa's strategic position and role. The major power rivalry in Africa has been intensifying. As the West Wing of Tokyo's "Indo-Pacific" vision, Africa is becoming increasingly important for Japan's strategic security and economic cooperation. Due to the limits on Japan's military power and declining economic strength, Japan's strategic intent toward Africa is to a great extent realized by its Official Development Assistance to the continent. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is in charge of administering Japan's ODA and has opened 28 offices in Africa. In 2020, Japan's ODA to sub-Saharan Africa totaled $1.338 billion, accounting for 7.9 percent of the country's total ODA.
From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, the priority for Japan's ODA was Asian countries, while Africa accounted for a very small share of its ODA. Despite rapid growth in its ODA to Africa from the 1970s to the 1980s, Japan was often strongly criticized by those Western countries professing they pursued human rights and democracy as the first and the foremost purpose of Japan's ODA is to gain economic interests overseas. Since the 1990s, Japan has been using the Tokyo International Conference on African Development as an important platform to actively promote its ODA concepts, such as high-quality economic growth and safeguarding human security, to Africa and the international community in an attempt to establish a good national image on the global stage. Over the past few years, ODA to Africa has become a crucial means for Japan to implement its "Indo-Pacific" vision.
Although Japan cannot invest heavily on ODA to Africa, it has blazed a new trail with continuously increasing human input and gradually formed an intensive and meticulous model for its ODA to Africa through public-private collaboration, and it has gained a good reputation among the African people.
Today, some Western media and anti-China forces are using the so-called Chinese debt trap narrative to defame and smear China and disrupt China's cooperation with other developing countries. To this end, Japan's ODA to Africa provides a good reference for China to better implement development assistance to Africa in the post-pandemic era.
To start with, Japan places importance on grassroots projects when designing ODA projects.
Compared with ODA by European countries and the United States, which attach political strings and aim at promoting "democracy" and "good governance", Japan's expertise lies in livelihood projects requiring moderate investment that ordinary people benefit from. For instance, a water supply project in the rural areas of Southern Ethiopia has solved the drinking water problem for people who used to carry water back and forth 6 kilometers on mountain roads. Such projects are often neglected or inaccessible by other aid-providing countries and local governments. Although these grassroots projects are often criticized by European countries and the US for their small coverage, they demonstrate Japanese people's down-to-earth attitude and cultivate a good impression of Japan among the local people. They have thus become a tradition in Japan's ODA and a feature that it tries to maintain. In the meantime, the Japanese government attaches importance to jointly building cooperation platforms with Japanese NGOs.
Second, with regard to the input of human resources for ODA projects, Japan encourages national participation to form a multi-layer talent system for the cause.
Japan has invested a large amount of human capital to guarantee the implementation of ODA projects in Africa. There are two types of dispatched personnel. The first type is experts dispatched for bilateral technological cooperation projects. Since Japan's ODA projects in Africa are mostly long-term ones that last for three to five years, there's a huge demand for long-term experts dispatched for ODA projects in Africa. The JICA often temporarily transfer civil servants from central ministries and commissions or hires non-government personnel to be the dispatched experts. These Japanese experts sit side by side and work together with local government officials in government buildings across African countries, so as to provide consulting services in a timely manner and influence local policymaking. The second type of dispatched personnel are Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, a system of dispatching Japanese youth and veteran volunteers overseas operated by the JICA. Furthermore, some Japanese colleges and universities have set up international development and cooperation majors to cultivate reserve corps for the cause and encourage more young people to participate in ODA projects.
Finally, Japan has strengthened coordination with European countries, the US and relevant international organizations on its ODA agenda.
Japan has carried out practical cooperation with other providers of aid in such areas as infrastructure, marine safety and disaster prevention in countries along the "Indo-Pacific" coasts, including African nations. Since the sudden onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, global issues such as medical and healthcare, environmental protection and climate action have become priority areas for ODA cooperation between Japan and Western countries. Moreover, in the face of these global issues, Japan has strengthened coordination with international organizations including the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Food Programme, and carried out ODA projects in collaboration with these organizations. The G7 Development Ministers Meeting and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are also important platforms for Japan to coordinate with Western countries on ODA-related issues. The EU and Italy, both members of the Development Assistance Committee of OECD, reviewed Japan's ODA in the years from 2019 to 2020 and gave it a high evaluation.
China's assistance to Africa is an important part of bilateral cooperation and is of great significance to promoting high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative and building a human community with a shared future. Since the inception of the China International Development Cooperation Agency in 2018, China's foreign aid mechanism has transformed from a multi-agency coordination system toward an overall planning system by a single, independent agency, making the mechanism more systemic. Japan's ODA to Africa can be used as a useful reference for China.
To start with, China needs to vividly introduce social welfare programs in assistance to Africa, such as livelihood projects — hospitals, schools and training programs — that ordinary people can benefit from. For instance, China has set up 11 Luban Workshops in 10 African nations including Djibouti and Kenya, providing vocational training for African youths to improve their employability. Sharing touching stories about how China's assistance to Africa changes the life of individuals or groups of people could help defy the attempts to stereotype China's development assistance to other countries.
Second, China could intensify coordination and communication with other nations and relevant international organizations over its development assistance agenda. China should make the most of its stand-alone aid agency, the CIDCA, in overall planning for the country's foreign aid. The CIDCA should strengthen communication with local governments and communities of the recipient countries, expand communication channels with professional international multilateral development agencies over China's development assistance agenda, and scale up exchanges with corresponding agencies from other aid providers including European countries, the US and Japan.
Last, non-government organizations, companies and volunteers should play their due roles in facilitating cultural exchanges in development assistance. Non-government organizations and Chinese enterprises operating overseas should be fully motivated to carry out in-depth exchanges with local people in the recipient countries, spreading Chinese culture and ideas in work and everyday life. Chinese universities and colleges could include some representative development assistance projects into their teaching programs, so as to cultivate young people's enthusiasm for taking part in the cause and nurture a reserve talent pool for the cause.
The author is an associate research fellow with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.