Japan playing catch-up to China in Latin America

Abe playing catch-up to China as he travels to Latin America seeking allies

July 25, 2014
by Atsushi Hiroshima, Takashi Funakoshi, and Nozomu Hayashi

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a five-nation Latin America tour starting July 25 in the hopes of gaining diplomatic allies, but he will likely find that China has already made even stronger inroads in the region.

“He (Abe) will try to make allies for Japan within the international community,” said a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official in regards to the major objective of the trip.

The prime minister will visit Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Chile and Brazil during the trip, which ends Aug. 4.

The tour comes on the heels of a similar trip made by Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month to Central and South America.

Xi visited Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba from July 15 in a similar bid to strengthen ties there.

The Chinese leader’s generous offers of funding for social infrastructure projects were heartily welcomed by his hosts.

Last year, Xi visited Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico, demonstrating the importance of the region to China.

Abe will clearly have his work cut out for him in trying to establish stronger ties with Latin American nations.

For example, trade between China and Brazil is already about five times greater than that between Japan and Brazil. China is also clearly ahead of Japan in terms of providing economic assistance.

About the only avenue left open for Abe will be to emphasize the sharing of such fundamental values as democracy and human rights.

Abe has visited 42 nations in the 19 months he has served as prime minister since assuming office for a second time in December 2012.

“(Latin America) was a continent (region) that had not been covered until now as we were pursuing our strategic diplomacy,” said a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official.

Abe will be accompanied by a delegation from Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), including its chairman, Sadayuki Sakakibara.

He hopes to broaden Japan’s influence in Latin America by developing cooperative relationships with regional organizations.

In that vein, the first summit meeting will be held on July 28 in Trinidad and Tobago when Abe meets with the leaders of the 15 member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

While the individual states in the Caribbean may be small, they constitute a major voting bloc in international organizations.

Abe hopes to gain the understanding and cooperation of that bloc as Japan seeks support ahead of the autumn 2015 election to choose nonpermanent members to sit on the U.N. Security Council.

He is expected to ask the leaders of CARICOM for their support in that election.

China, however, has taken that strategy one step further. It recently established a forum with CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which is made up of 33 nations from Central and South America.

An agreement was reached during the China-CELAC Forum to seek greater political dialogue and expand trade. China expressed its intention to provide $10 billion (1.017 trillion yen) in loans for social infrastructure projects at the forum, with the aim of increasing that amount to $20 billion in the future.

Xi also used the summit meeting earlier this month in Brazil of the newly emerging economies known as BRICS, which include China and Brazil, to criticize Abe for his stance on the historical interpretation of the shared history of Japan and China.

“We must never allow any force to overturn the history of military aggression,” Xi said at the meeting.

(This article was written by Atsushi Hiroshima and Takashi Funakoshi in Tokyo and Nozomu Hayashi in Beijing.)


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