Japan not leaving it all to China in the Caribbean

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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NOWADAYS China is talked about as the economic superpower challenging the United States for dominance in the world economy. It seems incredulous now that in the 1970s and 80s Japan was talked about in much the same way. The prospect has slipped away in the wake of financial sector problems and the rise of the Asian Tigers as economic competitors in global markets.

The rising sun of Japan has been waning in the Caribbean for a long time and is now eclipsed by China. This is no doubt responsible for current nine-day visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago, ending August 2.

Mr Abe's visit to the Caribbean, where he met with Caricom leaders on Monday, was prompted by four factors, we believe.

First, like every other oil-importing country in the world, Japan is looking for energy resources. Otherwise, the visit may not have involved a stop in the Caribbean. Indications are that a Japanese corporation is considering a huge investment in energy- related production in Trinidad. Japan will need to boost its development aid to the governments of the region to get the attention of those countries that have no energy resources to be bought or exploited.

Second, Japan needs to strengthen its diplomatic ties with a group that has 15 votes in the United Nations that could prove useful in its potentially explosive dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China has an increasingly lucrative relationship with Caricom countries that Japan fears could sway them in China's favour. Uppermost in the mind of the Prime Minister Abe is Japan's campaign for election in October 2016 to a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Third, Japan's belated concern to retain its preeminent position of supplier of motor vehicles, electronics and manufactured goods in Caribbean markets, which has come under pressure from a surge of imports of Chinese goods.

Fourth, Tokyo is cognisant of the competing visits late last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Joe Biden. As is now accepted protocol, the meeting in Port of Spain involves heads of governments from other Caricom countries, among them Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who is attending to rekindle the connections established on her visit to Japan late last year.

That comes fortuitously in a year when Japan and Jamaica are commemorating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

The visit to the Caribbean sends a clear diplomatic signal, but we suspect that Prime Minister Abe understands that it needed something more tangible than that to gain influence in countries whose foreign policy is guided by the mantra of 'what have you done for me lately?'

Hence the two agreements signed between Japan and Caricom: the Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in the Eastern Caribbean Region involving the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank, and Japan International Cooperation Agency; and the Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership, a US$15-million climate change project involving the provision of grants to Caribbean countries to build their capacity to cope with climate change.




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