During the three-day fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development that ended Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made full use of a once in five years chance to bolster ties with African countries by vigorously holding bilateral talks with the leaders of about 40 nations from the continent.
Japanese leaders, however, have not set foot on African soil in the past six years. Abe was the last to do so when he visited Egypt in 2007 during his first prime ministership. As for sub-Saharan Africa, the last visits were in 2006 by his then-predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, who visited Ethiopia and Ghana.
During this past Golden Week, Abe and 10 of his Cabinet ministers traveled abroad, but none went to Africa.
“Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abe didn’t extend his Golden Week trip to Africa. He stopped short in the Middle East. That is quite different from China’s approach. Chinese President Xi Jinping has already visited three African countries” since he was elected in March, Mitsugu Endo, a professor at the University of Tokyo whose specializes in African studies, told The Japan Times.
While Japan has focused its diplomacy mainly on the United States and Asia, China has gone far beyond Japan not only in terms of investments in and aid to Africa, but also in the number of trips to the continent made by its leaders.
In the past seven years, the Chinese president, vice president and premier have visited 28 African countries, compared with Abe’s 2007 Egypt trip and Koizumi’s travels to Ethiopia and Ghana the previous year.
At the ministerial level, both nations have sent their foreign ministers to Africa once a year. But in the case of Japan, only one, or maybe two, nations were visited, whereas their Chinese counterparts took in four or five countries each.
Abe in his opening remarks at TICAD V said he plans to visit Africa at the earliest possible opportunity, a pledge the African delegates welcomed. But nothing has been discussed yet about any possible trip to the continent, a Foreign Ministry official said.