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Friday, 07 February 2014 22:02

China’s oil safari crosses Japan’s energy diplomacy in Africa

By Narcisse Jean Alcide Nana

LONDON, February 07, 2014 (Pambazuka News) -- China may view the Japanese leader’s recent tour of Africa as an attempt to contain its own influence in Africa. Japan is focusing on developing trade with Africa, particularly Mozambique’s natural gas. How will China adjust to a new competitor?


With his five-day African tour, Japan’s leader Shinzo Abe has landed on the continent as “Japan’s top salesman.” Cladded with a business delegation, Shinzo Abe is pledging more than $14 billion in aid and trade for Africa.


In Abidjan, Japan pledged $84.4 million dollars for security in the Sahel region. Japan renewed its pledge of $32 billion for private and public support to African economies for the next five years. But shifting boldly from the demeanour of an international aid assistant, Japan signalled its pragmatic vision on the continent by focusing on trade and business in Mozambique.


In Maputo, Prime Minister Abe is opening venues to meet Japan’s quest for energy security. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan has become the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas. Nippon Steel is developing a coal mine in Mozambique. Shinzo Abe pledged to invest $ 672 million in loans for Mozambique. This loan will secure the construction of a transportation network connecting the Mozambican Nacala port to Malawi and Zambia to secure the transportation of Mozambique’s liquefied gas. The Japanese Chiyoda Corp. is bidding for the $ 20 billion contract for the construction of the plants.


A five-day African tour by Shinzo Abe has brought about a display of strings of diplomatic talk tactics and gossip. Japan and China traded waspish titbits of mutual accusations. So far, Abe’s visit is not seen in Beijing as an interesting diplomatic footnote in Japan’s foreign policy. Beijing saw it as a carefully crafted diplomacy of containment against Chinese influence in African affairs and a way of cozying to Africa by means of a forceful and assertive display of Japan as an “economic giant.”


Beijing holds a suspicion that Japan’s aid to Africa is gambling on purely political motives and interests. China has pledged to double its aid to Africa to $20 bn a year to maintain its economic and political clout over the continent. Alluding to Beijing’s aid on the continent, Japan even wryly confessed having no regret for not buying off African leaders with lavish headquarters and office towers as donations. Japan positioned itself as building on human capital in Africa.

Beyond this heated diplomatic rhetoric, both China and Japan are pursuing their domestic interests on the continent. China’s trade with Africa is growing over 20 percent a year and reached $110 billion in 2011. China’ state-owned mining companies were given the green light to secure precious commodities as far as Zambia’s copper, Gabon’s iron ore, Angola and Sudan’s oil are concerned. Africa provides one-third of China’s imported oil. By 2020, China will take the lead as the world’s largest net importer of oil. By 2035, China will roughly need 13 million a day of net oil consumption. 

Thus, both China and Japan are not ascending to Africa under the wings of a charity mission, and far from being candid benevolent benefactors. Charity will certainly not pull the continent out of poverty trap. African continent expects investment that disperses wealth while promoting job creation. Nevertheless, Japan’s recent economic footstep on the continent signals the end of an era.


The era of safe Chinese investments and cheap exports on the continent is over. China’s oil safari in Africa has crossed a new banner: Japan’s energy diplomacy on the continent. As for now, China’s growing expansion into Africa’s mineral resources and oil markets has to readjust to a new competitor. As Japan has elected Africa the last frontier of its diplomatic horizon, the time is now for the continent to stretch out its own interests to meet the priority of its frontiers.
*Narcisse Jean Alcide Nana holds a BA in Philosophy, MA in Political Theology from Boston College and is currently specializing in International Security at the University of Leicester, UK.



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