The real reason Japan is coming

News post October 2, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

THE official visit today of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a gracious gesture which, we believe, all Jamaicans welcome.

Frequently, pundits read these high-profile visits for their geopolitical importance. However, we think that Prime Minister Abe is not coming because Japan plans to assert itself as a global political superpower. The Asian tiger relinquished this fleeting illusion way back in the 1980s.

The visit to Jamaica is in reciprocity for the visit of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who visited Japan in November 2013, at which time she invited Mr Abe to return the favour. More importantly, this visit is intended to send a signal to the rest of Caricom, following the first Japan-Caricom summit last year in Port of Spain.

First and uppermost in the mind of Prime Minister Abe is Japan’s campaign for election in October 2016 to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Tokyo is re-engaging with Jamaica and the Caribbean to rebuild its presence which has been seriously overshadowed by the US and China.

Japan’s influence was never very strong, but it was even more noticeable in recent years because of America’s soft power and China’s substantial increase in aid.

Japan’s strong interest in a seat on the UN Security Council derives from its anxiety about China’s influence in the Pacific. A flashpoint is the bitter and potentially explosive dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands, a group of tiny uninhabited islands of little strategic value in the East China Sea.

While their long history of animosity is a factor, it is pride more than the possibility of undersea oil deposits that fuels the dispute. Japan worries that the Caricom countries that benefit from the generosity of China in numerous infrastructure projects would support China’s position, or at least not oppose it.

Japan needs to keep its diplomatic ties with Caricom, which has 15 votes in the United Nations.

Second, and to a lesser extent, Japan’s belated concern to retain its economic status as pre-eminent position of motor vehicles, electronics and manufactured goods. Its place in Caribbean markets has come under pressure from a surge of Chinese imports.

If Jamaica could be persuaded to support Japan’s UN bid, it does not follow that this will influence other Caricom governments. We suspect that it is going to take much more than the votes of 15 Caricom countries to get Japan what it aspires.

Add to the complexity and uncertainty the fact that Japan is not the only country eyeing a seat on the Security Council, and not the only government willing to be of assistance to the Caricom states in a time of need.

Of course, Japan is not unaware that finance may determine Caricom’s support. At the Trinidad summit, Japan announced a large aid package to be used for climate change, and relaxed the strict application of the per capita eligibility rule. This was to allow all Caricom countries, regardless of how high their per capita incomes were, to be eligible.

Previously, Japan’s position was that some Caricom countries were graduated from their aid because of their high per capita incomes. This change was a major development in their foreign policy and aid policy.

We salute and welcome the prime minister of Japan and acknowledge our half a century of mutual friendship.



Published By: The Observer

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