Japan: An idiosyncratic player

Issue 82 - July | August 2019

Japan has always gone its own way with its development policy, as Stephan Klingebiel of the German Development Institute declares.

Stephan Klingebiel, German Development Institute
Stephan Klingebiel, German Development Institute
How would you briefly characterize Japan's development policy?

Klingebiel: Japan has always been a top giver - long number two after the US, now number four - and a special giver. For Japan has always pursued a development model that builds heavily on their own development experience and benefits their own country. This is reflected, for example, in a strong focus on transport infrastructure and energy and a low focus on less developed countries. In the relevant indices for development commitment, we then find Japan in the episode then also in the back seats. This may have something to do with the fact that these indices tend to follow the logic of strong Anglophone players, but Japan should be somewhat stronger in the international discourse on good practices in development cooperation.

Japan relies heavily on cooperation with its own economy.

Klingebiel: I think that makes sense first, because public funds alone are not enough. But if it is a matter of giving competitive advantages to one's own private sector, which ultimately leads to disadvantages for the partner countries - because there is no international tender and services or goods are comparatively more expensive - this should also be discussed and criticized. For this there are the forums and peer reviews of the Development Assistance Committee DAC of the OECD, in whose founding Japan was involved at the beginning of the 1960 years. Incidentally, Japan's development cooperation is scheduled to return to peer review this year.

Japan argues that development cooperation benefits the population through its benefits.

KlingebielThis applies to all donor countries, and Japan is not alone in its practice. In the United Kingdom and in the United States, there is currently more pressure to emphasize national interests. But at the same time, we should agree that there is also a common interest in using funds as best we can in the developmental sense.

Japan's International Cooperation Agency JICA unites technical and financial cooperation under one roof. Is this forward-looking?

Klingebiel: The combination of the three instruments of donation, credit and technical cooperation is an interesting and innovative aspect that promotes consistent and coherent development cooperation. A trend in this direction is internationally recognizable. The mandate of JICA goes beyond development cooperation. The JICA is an agency that makes international cooperation in itself. And there are good reasons to say that perhaps this is also the modern way to organize development cooperation. The responsibility of such an agency does not depend on whether or not a partner is on the list of developing countries, but on working together with that country for reasons of global sustainable development. More and more countries - soon Turkey, India and China - are removed from the list. I think it would be an advantage to continue to cooperate with these countries.

How do China and Japan arrange themselves as actors of development cooperation?

Klingebiel: They are incomparable, just in terms of volume. But China already has its own agency for development cooperation. This is a milestone. In any case, Japan has an interest in being in dialogue with China, for example in providing training and further education.

The JICA Research Institute is a well-known think tank. Where are the priorities?

Klingebiel: We cooperate regularly with the JICA Research Institute, which has a lot to offer especially for integrative and human development.

Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!

Photo: Stephan Klingebiel

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Japan's Development Cooperation

Japan is one of the largest donors of development aid and strongly aligns its activities with its own experience and principles. And always the use should also directly benefit their own country.