Sino-Japanese acrimony spills over into Africa

January 16, 2014 05:36 am | Updated November 16, 2021 06:03 pm IST - ADDIS ABABA

A day after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the African Union (AU) and pledged loans worth $2 billion over five years as private sector assistance to the continent, China’s Ambassador to the AU, Xie Xiaoyan, described Mr. Abe as “the biggest troublemaker in Asia.”

“What can Japan do… in order for Africa to realise its brilliant future?” Mr. Abe asked, in his speech at the conclusion of a week of continent-wide diplomacy to tie up precious energy resources in Mozambique, offer billions of dollars in aid, trade and loans, and re-invigorate Japanese ties with Africa.

Mr. Abe’s diplomatic push has upset the Chinese government that accords great strategic significance to Africa as a source of raw materials and a market for finished goods. In 2012, China’s trade with Africa was set to surpass $200 billion.

Ambassador Xie’s comments come at a time of rising Sino-Japanese tensions over flight zones, maritime rules for fishing vessels, the disputed Senkaku Islands, and Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

Military drill On Monday, Japan held a military drill, termed “Island Defence”, in which elite Japanese paratroopers simulated the recapture of a remote island from an enemy country.

“We can never overlook China’s repeated entries into our territorial waters. In addition to diplomatic efforts, we will cooperate with the Coast Guard to securely defend our territory and waters around the Senkaku islands,” said Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera after the drill.

At the AU on Wednesday, China’s Ambassador Xie held an emotional press conference where he held up photographs of Japanese brutality in the course of what came to be known as the “Rape of Nanjing” in the Second Sino-Japan war of 1937.

“The Yasukuni Shrine was once a spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese militarism,” Mr. Xie said, referring to Mr. Abe’s recent visit. “This is a brazen affront on people of all countries that once suffered from Japanese militarist aggression.”

“The Japanese Prime Minister is trying to put on two faces – one to be a peace-loving leader who talks about cooperation, economics and trying to be friends with Africa,” Mr. Xie said. “In Asia he is trying… to make trouble amongst Asian countries.”

‘Not aligning with people’ Prior to Mr. Abe’s visit, the Japanese government made several allusions to China’s apparent strategy of aligning with African leaders rather than their people.

“We will centre the axis of Japan’s diplomacy towards Africa on two groups,” Mr. Abe said in his speech on Tuesday. “Young people, who will without a doubt shoulder the responsibility for the future Africa, and women, who will give life to Africa’s future generations.”

In comments to the BBC, Mr. Abe’s spokesperson said, “Countries like Japan… cannot provide African leaders with beautiful houses or beautiful ministerial buildings.”

On Wednesday, China hit back. “China and Africa started cooperation, supported each other for many decades, when China was poor, when Africa was not getting the kind of attention it is getting today, it was neglected,” said Mr. Xie. “We don’t engage in such competition as subscribed by some countries.”

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