Checkbook Diplomacy: From China to Japan, Asia Looks for Global Friends

China’s diplomats and business people are travelling the globe, layout lots of money, in the US$ billions, in Latin America and Africa, and also in Asia, in the name of development and business, to make friends and gain influence. Much of China’s global efforts have been in areas to counter the West, particularly America’s influences. At this point, those Chinese activity have been met with mixed results. Japan, where in Asia, Japan is confronting an externally aggressive China, is also doing the same thing China is, meaning going global, in developmental aid and business investments, to make friends and gain influences.

Abe’s Checkbook Diplomacy

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) by TOKO SEKIGUCHI, on Feb. 10, 2015, reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe latest step toward Mr. Abe’s goal of Japan playing a bigger role in global affairs. As part of that drive, WSJ, reported that the Japanese cabinet agreed to provide development aid for the first time to foreign militaries engaged in non-combat operations,

WSJ reported that the shift also reflects Japan’s intentions to use aid in the pursuit of its national interests. The country has provided various forms of assistance to foreign militaries before but never through its overseas aid program, known as Official Development Assistance (ODA) reported WSJ.

“Given that militaries now play an important role in non-military activities such as post-conflict rebuilding and reconstruction, as well as disaster relief, we’ve clarified our policy of non-military cooperation,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said after the cabinet meeting. In the past, Japan’s development aid has included financing projects ranging from humanitarian assistance to infrastructure and providing grants and yen-based loans, with a strong emphasis on Asia.

WSJ reported that Abe’s aid objective was criticized in the past for “checkbook diplomacy,” Japan has steadily shrunk the size of the program to less than half its peak level of $9.9 billion in 1997. The budget for the fiscal year starting in April was cut for a 16th consecutive year, as the defense budget has risen slightly all three years Mr. Abe has been in office, to a record in fiscal 2015.

WSJ said the revised ODA policy outline, while not naming China, also refers to the importance of supporting democratization and the rule of law, phrases Mr. Abe’s administration often uses to refer indirectly to China-related affairs. Collaboration with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been a pillar of Mr. Abe’s diplomacy in Asia and the new policy cites the need “to support united efforts to tackle [Asean’s] challenges.”

As tensions between China and Japan have flared over territorial disputes in recent years, Tokyo has sought closer ties with Asean nations, some of which have their own territorial disputes with China. Mr. Abe has urged Asean nations to maintain a united front rather than engage China individually over territorial feuds. China’s foreign aid was estimated at $7.1 billion in 2013, according to a report by the research branch of Japan International Cooperation Agency, which implements ODA projects.

Checkbook Diplomacy: “Middle East”

Earlier in the year, Abe visited Cairo and announced an aid package. Dozens of Japanese company executives accompany Abe on his trip. AFP reported on the trip, Abe pledged Saturday $2.5 billion in humanitarian and development aid for the Middle East as he launched a regional tour that includes visits to Jordan and Israel. In a speech in Cairo, Abe pledged $200 million in non-military assistance for countries affected by ISIL’s expansion in Iraq and Syria, which spurred an exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries.

“Japan will newly carry out assistance of 2.5 billion US dollars in non-military fields including humanitarian assistance and infrastructure development, intended for the entire region,” Mr Abe said.

AFP reported that Abe, speaking to Egyptian politicians and businessmen, said Japan would “provide assistance for refugees and displaced persons from Iraq and Syria”. “I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million US dollars for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on,” he added.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said that much of those funds would go towards assisting neighbouring states hosting refugees. The money is included in the $2.5 billion figure, she said, which also includes loans to improve Egypt’s power grid. The United Nations has warned that the number of Syrian refugees could shoot up to 4.27 million by December from the current figure of more than three million.

He said Japan had contributed $2.2 billion to the Middle East in 2012 which had “already been put into execution.” Abe is expected to meet Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi before departing to Jordan and then Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. His itinerary includes a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. Mr Abe urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations, after the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court this month to seek an investigation into the war in Gaza last year. “Japan believes that the day will come in the near future when we can recognise Palestine as a state,” he said. “In order for that day to arrive sooner, we will appeal to both Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations to advance the so-called Two-State Solution.”

 Checkbook Diplomacy: “ASEAN”

KYODO reports Abe and Thai junta leader agree to cooperate on railway development, special economic zone. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed in Tokyo to further develop the strategic partnership between their nations, pledging to deepen economic cooperation to develop Thailand’s railway networks and promote a special economic zone in Southeast Asia.

“It was very significant that we were able to confirm cooperation in the development of railway transport networks in Thailand and promotion of the Dawei Special Economic Zones project in Myanmar,” Abe said at a joint news conference.

KYODO reported that Thailand and Myanmar are jointly pursuing the Dawei SEZ project, which aims to attract investment to a 20,000-hectare production and distribution base. Meanwhile Prayuth, a former army chief who took power after a military coup last May, stressed that Thailand will return to democracy soon, saying a new constitution will be drafted as rapidly as possible and a general election will be held at the end of this year or early next year.

“Prime Minister Prayuth is committed to restoring Thailand’s democracy,” Abe said. “Japan strongly hopes that (Thailand) will achieve national reconciliation and restore democracy at the earliest possible date.” According to a joint statement, Abe and Prayuth “affirmed the importance of promoting the Dawei SEZ project through the trilateral consultation among Japan, Thailand and Myanmar.” Prior to their joint news conference, the transport ministries of the two countries signed a “Memorandum of Intent on Cooperation of the Railway Sector.”

KYODO reports Prayuth said the purpose of his visit to Japan was to emphasize the importance of the bilateral strategic partnership in the Mekong region. “What was most important in the talks (with Abe) was that Japan perceived Thailand as an engine to promote development in the region and will pursue cooperation with Thailand,” Prayuth said, adding that special economic zones will offer huge business opportunities for Japanese firms.

Checkbook Diplomacy: “Exposed”

The following is from Human Rights Watch:

Thailand: Japan Should Urge End to Military Rule

Abe Needs to Send Military Leader Prayuth Clear Message on Rights

 JANUARY 29, 2015 Press release

Prime Minister Abe should emphasize Japan’s deep concerns with military rule in Thailand. The Thai junta leader should be told there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand returns to democratically elected civilian rule, and respect for human rights is restored.

Brad Adams, Asia director

(Tokyo) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should press Thailand’s junta leader to improve human rights and restore democratic civilian rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who chairs the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta that staged a military coup in May 2014, is scheduled to travel to Japan from February 8 to 10, 2015. According to his office, Prayuth will meet Abe to seek to boost Japanese investment in Thailand.

“Prime Minister Abe should emphasize Japan’s deep concerns with military rule in Thailand,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai junta leader should be told there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand returns to democratically elected civilian rule, and respect for human rights is restored.”

In his meetings with Prayuth, Abe should put into practice his 2013 vision of “diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law,” Human Rights Watch said. Abe failed to translate that aspiration into reality when he met Prayuth last October. Abe should transform Japan’s traditional “quiet” diplomacy on human rights into a more strategic policy of public engagement and constructive criticism. Close diplomatic, political, economic, and socio-cultural ties provide Japan with significant leverage to be frank and forthright in raising human rights issues with Thailand.

Japanese officials should urge Thailand’s government to immediately address a range of pressing human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said. In the eight months since the military coup, the junta has made no genuine progress toward restoring democratic rule. As both junta leader and prime minister, General Prayuth wields broad powers without any judicial or other oversight. The interim constitution and the draconian Martial Law of 1914 provide immunity to junta members to commit human rights violations. Key constitutional bodies set up by the NCPO, such as the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the Constitution Drafting Committee are all stacked with military personnel and other junta loyalists.

The NCPO has severely repressed fundamental rights and freedoms that are essential for the restoration of democratic rule. The NCPO has enforced censorship and ordered media not to criticize the military. More than 200 websites – including Human Rights Watch’s Thailand page – have been blocked by the junta as threats to national security. The NCPO has banned public gatherings of more than five people and prohibits anti-coup activities. Protesters who have expressed disagreement with the junta have been arrested and sent to military courts, where they face being sentenced to prison with no right to appeal. Deeming political discussions and diverse political opinions as a threat to stability and national security, the NCPO has extended its grip into universities and banned discussions about human rights, democracy, and the performance of the Prayuth administration.

“Thailand is in the choking grip of military rulers, a nationwide enforcement of martial law, and an unrelenting crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and assembly,” Adams said. “Pressure from a key business partner like Japan is crucial to bringing a speedy return to democratic rule in Thailand.”

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