• Kyodo

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Ministers from Japan and over 50 African countries started a two-day meeting in Tokyo on Saturday to discuss the need for quality infrastructure and the challenges in making development more inclusive on the continent, where China’s influence is growing.

The meeting is part of a Japan-led initiative to assist African development and precedes an international conference on the issue slated for next August in Yokohama.

During the meeting, senior officials from the African nations are expected to exchange views on a range of topics from infrastructure development and health care coverage to disaster prevention and business investment.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono stressed the importance of quality infrastructure and said Japan seeks to connect Africa and Asia under its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.’

“International assistance should be provided in accordance with international standards such as transparency, openness and economic efficiency,” Kono said at the outset of the meeting.

“These principles are crucial components of Japan’s quality infrastructure initiative,” he added.

In the previous round of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in 2016, Japan pledged $30 billion over a three-year period for investment in Africa.

China is also courting African countries with massive investments. Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed in September to extend $60 billion in financing to the continent, which is seen as having growth potential.

Concerns have risen, however, that huge loans extended to finance infrastructure development could lead to defaults by African countries.

The ministers are expected to check progress on projects launched so far and explore ways to encourage private-sector investment, according to Japanese officials.

A spate of bilateral meetings between Kono and visiting African ministers are scheduled on the fringes of the multilateral gathering through Sunday.