28.08.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Japan Activates in Africa

Japan Activates in Africa

The long ago started process of Japan’s return (after its crushing defeat in World War II) to the table of the “Great Global Game” as one of the main players has revealed itself, in particular, in Tokyo’s ever more noticeable activation in Africa. This activation is quite tellingly exemplified by travels by three members of the country’s government, led by the Prime Minister, to various countries of the continent, that has taken place in a successive manner from May to mid-August of this year, that is, within just three months.

The word “activation” is not being used randomly here, as various interests of Japan in the affairs of this continent had been noted long before the present “African rush” that has expanded to all the leading global players, without exception. The aforementioned trend in Tokyo’s foreign policy became visible practically immediately as soon as the prospects for a new actualization of the problems in the relations with China, which had seemingly receded into the rearview mirror (both with a near and quite distant view), emerged. This trend, in its turn, achieved especially visible success in the African Continent in the process of implementation of the global project Belt and Road Initiative.

In the complicated set of problems accompanying the development of Japanese – Chinese relations, one, already termed by the media as the “mineral” one, is becoming especially topical. Note that the struggle between leading (at any given historical moment) powers for sources of various “minerals” has been one of its main motives during at least two last centuries, that is, from the beginning of the “industrial revolution.”

Today, guaranteed access to so-called “rare earth minerals” becomes especially relevant. China has almost absolute monopoly in their supply to the global markets. And it certainly uses this factor in response to various acts of pressure on its sensitive points, undertaken by its geopolitical rivals.

The initiators (in Washington, Tokyo and Brussels) of the de-risking strategy in the international “supply chain,” providing for manufacturing of semi-finished products in the sphere of advanced IT technologies should expect some sort of response measures to the attempts to exclude China from the aforementioned “chains.” Such response (sic!) materialized in the restrictions on exports of germanium and gallium, that is, two rare earth metals that are the basis for modern semiconductors production.

Not long after, Japan discovered that the companies involved in the said production process had only a half-year stock of gallium. This prompted the Japanese Minister of Economy Yasutoshi Nishimura to make a statement that he did not expect any immediate impact, but his Ministry “will closely monitor the situation.”

However, neither he nor the Ministry he heads have any right to passively watch these stockpiles diminish, and they are directly obligated to search for alternative sources of their replenishment. That (among other things) was what Nishimura tried to do during his week-long trip to a number of African countries.

This was the third trip among those mentioned above, with the first one taking place in the period from April 30 to May 4 and involving Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. During this trip, he successively visited Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. Of course, the objective of this trip could not be limited to the “brute matter” and included a wide circle of aspects in their totality defined by the elastic term of “politics.”

In particular, the aims determined for this trip of Kishida are marked by visible presence of the factor of the increasing struggle against China and Russia by the “Collective West” (and today’s Japan positions itself as its important component) for influence on the so-called “Global South” in general and on its “African component” in particular. In conversations with his colleagues from the host countries, the Japanese Prime Minister used various bad words aimed to put the geopolitical opponents in a bad light. Regarding Russia, the “unprovoked aggression against Ukraine” was mentioned, and the guest urged his interlocutors to join, in every possible way, in condemnation of said “aggression.”

An op-ed in one of the leading Japanese newspapers, Yomiuri Shimbun, while noting the “differences on several key international issues,” pointed out that the guest failed, first of all, to gain the support of his (generally quite hospitable) hosts mostly in assessments of the conflict in Ukraine. For the obvious reason that “many African nations have historically held deep ties with China and Russia.”

But, as the saying goes, a negative result during some event is also a result worth no less attention than a positive one. Especially since during this trip Kishida, to a certain extent, played the role of the “special ambassador” of G7, whose aim was to probe the attitudes in the said extremely important part of “the Global South”. During the G7 summit, held two weeks later in Hiroshima, the Prime Minister of Japan evidently stated his impression regarding the said attitudes. Incidentally, the very topic of the “Global South,” together with the “challenges posed by China and Russia,” was the focus of attention of the Hiroshima event participants.

Fumio Kishida’s meeting with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, held on April 30 in Cairo, the capital of the first country visited during this trip, is particularly noteworthy. The very fact of this meeting (as well as the meeting with the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) appears to demonstrate the increasing attention the Japanese Government pays to the whole chain of countries and regions connecting it to Africa. Meanwhile, the Greater Middle East region, consisting mainly of Arab countries, although ostensibly just one of the links in the said chain, is important for Japan by itself. The reasons for said importance were recently discussed in the “New Eastern Outlook” in connection with Kishida’s trip to the Persian Gulf countries, that took place two and a half months later.

The “political” part of the activation of Japan both in Africa and in a number of countries being part of the aforementioned “chain,” was continued by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi who consecutively visited India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the South African Republic, Uganda and Ethiopia from July 27 to August 4. And though for various reasons all of the destinations of the Japanese Foreign Minister pose some kind of interest, let us note just two of these, namely India and South Africa.

The very fact of Hayashi staying in New Delhi as well as the contents of the speeches he and his Indian colleague Subrahmanyam Jaishankar made at the bilateral Forum held there fully fit into one of the most significant trends of development of the situation in the Indian-Pacific region, namely the strengthening comprehensive relations between India and Japan.

As regards South Africa, it is the most economically developed African country and the only country on the continent, which is a member of G20 and BRICS. In both of these associations (and in the global political arena in general) South Africa claims a sort of representation of this very “Global South,” gradually replacing India in this role.

That is one of the reasons why the leading global players, including Japan, pay special attention to South Africa in the struggle for the influence on “the Global South.” The other reason being that the guest from Japan had very much to discuss in South Africa regarding that very “mineral” component of the said struggle. Both with his colleague Naledi Pandor and representatives of the country’s business community.

And that despite the fact that, it should be emphasized, securing various types of “minerals” is a direct responsibility of another member of the Japanese Cabinet, the already mentioned Minister of Economy Yasutoshi Nishimura. Nishimura chose different routes than those of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and on August 6 (that is, just three days after the latter returned home) went on a week-long trip to Africa, visiting Namibia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Madagascar. He signed various bilateral papers with his colleagues from all these countries, the main contents being expanding Japanese companies’ presence in the sphere of development of the mineral resources that the African continent is VERY rich with.

The Joint Statement concluded in Zambia says that special attention would be paid to extraction of copper, nickel and cobalt. The parties agreed to use the Japanese remote probing satellite for the purposes of detailed study of the already discovered mineral deposits and searching for new mineral resources in the territory of Zambia.

As far as the political aspects of development of bilateral cooperation, mentioned in this document, are concerned, the following paragraph appears important: “Securing robust supply-chain of critical minerals, which is essential for the energy transition, while avoiding heavy dependence on a specific country.” As if copied from the latest G7 and EU documents which explains what the term “de-risking” means as applicable to the present-time stage of relations with China.

However, it could not be otherwise, as Africa is gaining an increasing importance in the foreign policy of Japan, a country which itself is an integral part of G7 and is developing a multitude of relations with the EU.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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