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  5. Huriye Yıldırım Çınar: Japan’s rivalry with Russia and China in the global south

Huriye Yıldırım Çınar: Japan’s rivalry with Russia and China in the global south

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The foreign ministers of the International Group of Seven (G-7) countries held a meeting in Karuizawa, Japan, between April 16-18. After the meeting hosted by Japan, the ministers expressed their views against the Taliban administration’s barrier to Afghan women’s working life, the ongoing war in Ukraine and China’s aggressive policies in the South China Sea. Furthermore, they signaled the idea of forming a common front against China and Russia.

China, meanwhile, immediately made a statement against the statements and declared that this rhetoric was an “intervention” in its internal affairs.



Here, we can talk about the aim of the G-7 countries to establish a new international order. The G-7 countries attach great importance to gaining the support of the Global South to contain Russia and China. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is also trying to formulate foreign policy strategies around this idea of support for the Global South. Recent Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s travels to countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are also considered within this scope. In addition, we can say that Kishida’s planned trips to Africa after the G-7 meeting served the same purpose.

On April 29, Kishida went on an African tour that included Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. As will be remembered, these countries have good relations with China. China is one of Kenya’s largest trading partners, and only in 2022, six trade agreements were signed between the two countries. Relations between Egypt and China have developed with significant momentum in recent years. China has become a substantial investor in trade and infrastructure projects in Egypt.



On the other hand, it is known that Beijing supports Egypt’s space programs. Furthermore, China has an important presence in Mozambique, which has attracted attention internationally with its rich energy resources in recent years. Especially in energy, the Beijing Government has implemented many projects in Mozambique. Finally, we can say that China is one of the biggest trade partners of Ghana. Ghana’s Finance Minister traveled to China last month to develop bilateral relations.

Japan’s Africa policy

Japan has been building its relations with Africaon the following two foreign policy principles: first, “Seikei Bunri,” which means separating economy and politics, and second, the “Yoshida Principle,” which means considering economic development as the primary goal in foreign policy, giving more space to political issues in diplomacy.

Thanks to these principles, Japan has become a significant economic and technological power in a short time by channeling all its motivation to economic and development issues, despite the demand of the United States, which is its strategic ally, to increase its military expenditures from time to time. In this context, Japan has chosen to shape its relations with Africa according to the economic perspective. As a result, the Tokyo administration has transferred great resources, especially in the fields of development and humanitarian aid, to some African countries, where it is of great importance regarding raw materials and market needs for its rapidly developing industry.

However, we can observe changes in Japan’s African policy principles today. This is because Japan’s relations with Africa include political issues and a purely economic perspective.



As it is known, China appears as a significant competitor in Japanese foreign policy. Preventing China’s rapid progress in Africa since the 2000s is one of the primary goals of the Tokyo administration. It is possible to say that the intention to limit China and Russia, which emerged after the G-7 meeting, coincides with Japanese foreign policy in this direction. In this context, the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) summit held in Tunisia on Aug. 27-28, 2022, is crucial. At the meeting, Kishida made dissenting statements against Russia and China and promised to transfer $30 billion in resources to Africa.

Another of the political issues that added to the economic issues in the backbone of Japan’s relations with Africa is Japan’s goal of obtaining a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. China is the biggest obstacle to this goal of the Tokyo government. Against this obstacle, Japan aims to gain the support of African states, the largest voting bloc in the U.N. With this support, it is expected that the Japanese thesis will be supported in the political disputes between China and Japan, such as the Senkaku Islands, and on the North Korean issue in East Asia.

In this last African tour of Kishida, the first Japanese premier to go to Africa since 2016, we can observe this changing nature of Japanese-African relations, which puts more political issues on the agenda. At the news conference in Mozambique, Kishida said that Japan would act as an intermediary actor between developed G-7 countries and developing Global South countries. He hopes these cooperations will be effective in various fields, especially food and energy security issues. After these statements, he emphasized that the increase in food and energy prices in the Global South was due to Russia’s aggressive attitude toward Ukraine. In this tour of Kishida, which includes four countries, he aimed to gain the support of these countries against China and Russia and support for Ukraine in the Russia-Ukraine war. However, we cannot say that Kishida achieved these goals during his tour. While only Kenya and Ghana made clear statements against Russia’s Ukraine policies, Egypt and Mozambique, which had good relations with the Russians since the USSR, avoided explicitly supporting Kishida.

On the other hand, in his contact with African leaders in Kishida, he also held talks on the developments in East Asia, the need for U.N. Security Council reform, the aggressive policies of North Korea, and the results in Sudan, apart from the Ukraine war. Furthermore, Kishida emphasized that economic development cannot be achieved without providing security in Africa in Ghana. For this purpose, $500 million of resources were promised to be used in the next three years by Japan to support peace and stability in the continent.

Japan, which aims to have a permanent seat in the U.N., has repeatedly stated its intention. Furthermore, it was reported that the two countries decided to work more closely on the issue of U.N. reform, which was also discussed in detail at the meeting with his counterpart in Mozambique.

Besides political issues, Kishida has also made important initiatives in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique, especially in energy and development. For example, Kishida visited the Grand Egyptian Museum, which was built with the support of Japan, and the research institute in Ghana commemorating Hideyo Noguchi (who died of yellow fever while researching the disease in the region). During these visits, he announced the intention of Japan to cooperate more closely to develop these countries. In addition, necessary steps have been taken in the field of energy. Examples of these moves are the decision to continue the natural gas project in Mozambique, suspend it for security reasons, and invest in a sizeable renewable energy investment in Kenya.

Power struggle

So, can Japan be the winning actor in its competition with China and Russia in Africa, as seen in this African tour? Unfortunately, this is a pretty low probability since the $30 billion resource promised to be transferred to Africa at the 8th TICAD last August is less than the $40 billion pledged by China a year ago. On the other hand, while Japan’s trade volume with African countries was $24 billion last year, China’s trade volume with continental countries reached $254 billion. In light of these indicators, Japan’s economic competitiveness with China in Africa was very low during the economic recession after the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, China’s extraordinary economic power in Africa allows it to influence political issues indirectly. Likewise, giving port operations and infrastructure projects in some countries to China is an indicator of this situation.

On the other hand, when developing relations in Africa, China does not care whether the political regimes in the country respect the democratic orientation, law and human rights. This situation, called the “Beijing Consensus,” was welcomed by the African leaders who dictated what the Western countries would do to them. They sought cooperation with China in many areas. However, the same cannot be said for Japan. Japan cannot quickly develop relations with autocratic and corrupt leaders like China, who exhibit anti-democratic attitudes. Democracy and the rule of law, the basic principles of the Western bloc to which it was articulated after the Cold War, created a distance between Japan and some leaders in Africa.

Finally, it is necessary to mention Japan’s rivalry with Russia in Africa. Many African states struggle with significant security problems such as civil war, terrorism, coups, and political and economic crises after independence. They know their cooperation with Western actors, especially France, has not succeeded in this struggle and has worsened the current situation. Therefore, in recent years, some African countries have believed that cooperation with Russia to solve security problems will bring faster and more effective results. More than 20 military agreements have been signed between Russia and African countries since 2015. Under these circumstances, it is clear that Tokyo cannot compete with Russia alone in Africa. However, Japan can accelerate its cooperation with Western actors to limit China and Russia on the continent.
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