Medium-term policy guidelines for Official Development Assistance, announced by the government Aug. 10, set the standards for implementing Japan’s ODA between 1999 and 2003. The guidelines place emphasis on aid to Asian countries to help them implement structural reforms aimed at solving their economic problems.

The plans are based on the idea that Japan should fulfill its international responsibility as the second-largest economy and the top ODA provider in the world. That should serve Japan’s national interest in a broad sense, the guidelines say. They also remind us that the government should be accountable to the public for ODA amid the severe economic and fiscal difficulties and should seek public support on the issue. From that viewpoint, the document called for “effective” ODA. Japan faces a diplomatic challenge in executing its international responsibility while protecting the national interest.

In 1998, Japan was the world’s largest ODA provider for the eighth consecutive year, doling out $10.68 billion. But the share of ODA as a percentage of Japan’s gross national product was 0.28 percent, 12th among the 21 member nations of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In fiscal 1998, Japan was forced to cut ODA outlays by 10.4 percent, due to economic problems.

Meanwhile, media reports said Japanese companies made payoffs in connection with foreign aid to Indonesia. The reports raised serious doubts among the public over such aid at a time when Japan’s unemployment rate was rising and companies were pushing restructuring efforts as a result of the recession. There is mounting pressure on the government to assign priorities to aid projects and to shift from a quantitative approach to a qualitative one when assessing aid.

In an article published in the Aug. 10 International Herald Tribune, the Dutch, Norwegian, British and German ministers for international development said: “Poverty is a moral issue but also a root cause of many global problems. As ministers for development, our immediate challenge is to build the broadest possible understanding at home and abroad, as we enter the 21st century, that it can be and must be eradicated.”

Of the 6 billion people of the world, 1.3 billion suffer from dire poverty. The DAC’s new development strategies, announced in 1996, call for development efforts aimed at improving living standards and at halving the poverty-stricken population by 2015.

The ODA policy guidelines say top priority should be given to developing countries’ self-help under the DAC’s new development strategies and to proper implementation of aid and transparency in aid-funded projects. To make aid more effective, the document also called for coordination with nongovernmental organizations and use of private-sector funds. Furthermore, it gave special emphasis to training experts to promote economic and social development.

In addition to dispatching experts overseas and receiving trainees in Japan, the guidelines also called for better use of young and senior Japanese volunteers to train local personnel. In my view, a system should be expanded to make better use of Japanese experts to help Asian countries revive their slumping economies. The plans also call for expanded Japanese-language education in developing countries. The idea is fine, but I believe that Asian personnel should be given Japanese-language lessons before being sent to Japan. Toward that end, Japanese-language institutes should be established in Asian countries with teachers sent from Japan.

The guidelines also say that Japan should actively promote “visible” foreign aid to seek the support of taxpayers and that of recipient countries.

The Japanese have become increasingly negative about foreign aid after the collapse of the bubble economy. The latest public opinion poll on diplomacy, taken by the government in the fall of 1998, showed that those supporting expanded foreign aid represented a record low of 28 percent of respondents, down 13.5 percent from 1991. Those calling for minimum aid accounted for a record high of 18.5 percent, up 10.5 percent. Of this group, 75.3 percent cited Japan’s economic difficulties for their lack of enthusiasm for aid, indicating a widespread view that Japan was in no position to expand aid amid the recession.

The growing public reluctance to give foreign aid is a serious problem for Japan, the world’s largest aid provider. The government should disclose full information about aid programs and evaluations to the Diet and the public, without fearing criticism at home and abroad. Full disclosure is essential to facilitate cooperation with nongovernmental organizations in implementing aid.

The Group of Eight summit held in Cologne, Germany, in June agreed to increase the share of grant-based financing in ODA to the least developed countries. The leaders also reaffirmed their support for the OECD mandate to finalize a recommendation on “untying” aid to least-developed countries.

“Visible” foreign aid will be made possible through tied aid, which is premised on deals with Japanese companies. On the other hand, untying aid is the global trend. For Japan, the major question is how it should harmonize summit accords with its national interest. As the host of the next summit of major powers in Kyu-shu and Okinawa, Japan needs to work out viable aid strategies.

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