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May 01, 2012

Politics & Society “100 Actions” Creating a Vision of Japan: 21. ODA Power (Foreign Affairs 7)

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, a total of 163 countries and regions and 43 organizations throughout the world announced that they would provide Japan with material, financial, and personnel support. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, material and financial assistance has thus far been received through official channels from 126 countries, regions, and organizations.

According to the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office, by March 22 2011, or less than two weeks after the disaster, offers of assistance and messages of sympathy had been received from more than 670 NGOs worldwide. Statistics indicate that at least 43 NGOs representing 16 countries came to Japan to provide support and services.

These figures are indicative of the broad range of countries, including many developing countries, that stood up in support of Japan. Of course, this support was triggered by the serious humanitarian concerns that followed in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake. However, I believe that it can also be viewed as an expression of gratitude and approval for Japan’s long years of official development assistance (ODA) and other forms of international cooperation.

The unfortunate fact is that Japan’s ODA faces an increasingly harsh domestic environment, which reflects both budgetary challenges and weak support from the general public.

By fiscal 2009, Japanese bilateral ODA had been allocated to a total of 189 countries and regions of the world. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program operated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has a similarly impressive record. As of November 2007, a total of 30,816 volunteers had been dispatched to 82 countries to engage in international cooperation projects. Moreover, Japan has accepted more than 30,000 young overseas trainees from developing countries through JICA programs.

In 1993, Japan became the world’s top ODA donor country and maintained this rank for eight years. Thereafter, it was successively overtaken by the United States in 2001, the United Kingdom in 2006, and Germany and France in 2007, falling down to the fifth place in terms of ODA budget. A review of the past three year’s ODA general account budgets, excluding yen loans, reveals the following. In fiscal 2009, disbursements amounted to 672.2 billion yen (down 4.0 percent from the previous year). From there it went to 618.7 billion yen (down 7.9 percent) in fiscal 2010, and finally to 572.7 billion yen (down 7.4 percent) in fiscal 2011. Japan’s ODA budget had fallen by 50 percent from the peak level of 1,168.7 billion yen marked in fiscal 1997.

Other similarly disappointing figures come from the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD. In terms of annual per capita ODA disbursement, Japan ranks 18th among 22 DAC member countries at 74.20 US dollars. In terms of the ratio of ODA to gross national income, Japan ranks 20th among 22 countries at only 0.18 percent.

What is Japanese ODA being used for?

Japan’s ODA is allocated to projects and programs in the following broad range of fields: (1) poverty reduction (education, health and medical services, population, water and sanitation); (2) sustainable growth (socio-economic infrastructure, ICT, trade, agriculture, institutional development); (3) addressing global issues (environment, climate change, infectious diseases, food, natural resources, energy, natural disasters, terrorism); (4) peacebuilding (support for Afghanistan and Pakistan, support for Iraq, removal of anti-personnel mines).

The following are some specific examples of projects undertaken.
 Reducing maternal mortality rates in Indonesia by supporting the use of Maternal and Child Health Handbooks for protecting the health of mothers and children.
 Phu My Thermal Power Plant Project in Vietnam featuring public-private partnership in infrastructure development.
 “School for All” project for expanding primary education in Niger, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.
 Coffee-related technical support for Mexico’s Cooperative Producers Union “Maya Vinic” to encourage economic independence.
 Support for Egypt’s Zafarana Wind Power Plant Project.
 Support for the development of hydroelectric power and aluminum refinery in Indonesia’s Asahan Project.
 Technical support for natural resource development surveys conducted in developing countries through Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation.

There is widespread evidence that Japanese ODA is very highly valued by recipient countries. Tokens of appreciation include China’s commemorative stamp for the Yunnan Province Human Resources Development Project, Cambodia’s 1,000-riel bill (commemorating the project for improvement of national roads routes 6 and 7), and Ghana’s commemorative stamp for the 120th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Hideyo Noguchi.

However, the Japanese public have become increasingly skeptical of ODA during recent years as evidenced by the Public Opinion Survey on Foreign Diplomacy conducted by the Cabinet Office. Results of the fiscal 2011 survey indicate that the percentage of respondents agreeing that “ODA should be positively promoted” has declined by 14 points from a post-1990 peak of 41.4 percent marked in 1991 to 27.4 percent. On the other hand, the percentage of respondents agreeing that “ODA should be reduced as much as possible” has increased by nearly 10 points from 8.0 percent in 1991 to 17.8 percent.

The problem before us is very clear. While ODA has a strategic role to play in foreign relations, the ODA budget has been steadily reduced and public opinion is increasingly critical of ODA. This points to certain parameters for “Action” on enhancing Japan’s “ODA power”. Specifically, the following three priority issues can be identified: (1) develop ODA strategies, (2) earmark necessary budgets, and (3) obtain public understanding and support for implementation.

1. Formulate International Cooperation (ODA) Strategy and Create Command Post

ODA is of critical strategic importance in realizing Japan’s national interests. Therefore, a grand design and specific ODA strategies should be formulated by the National Security Council as part of a comprehensive package of strategies for national security, trade, finance, and foreign relations.

To ensure the implementation of such strategies, the establishment of a centralized command post to be tentatively called the International Cooperation Agency is worth considering. Many leading countries of the world have created centralized organizations (command post) for overseeing international cooperation. These include the Agency for International Development of the US Department of State, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Britain’s Department for International Development. By contrast, Japan has a total of twelve government ministries and agencies involved in ODA in one way or the other. Besides the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these include the National Police Agency, the Financial Services Agency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and the Ministry of the Environment. Given that there is no centralized framework for policy, budget, and authority under this highly splintered system, the creation of an International Cooperation Agency (tentative title) is an option to consider.

2. Defend the ODA Budget

ODA-related allocations in the fiscal 2011 general account budget amounted to about 572.7 billion yen, a mere 0.6 percent of total government spending. This indicates that cutting the ODA budget cannot contribute significantly to restoring fiscal soundness. A far greater concern is the possible negative impact of further reductions in ODA disbursements on diplomatic policies and Japan’s presence in the international community.

Therefore, on the condition that ODA efficiency is increased and disclosure of ODA-related information is promoted to secure public understanding and support, a political commitment should be made to defend the ODA budget from any further erosion. In addition to this, other sources of funds should be actively utilized in contributing to the economic advancement of developing countries. These include private-sector funds, other official funds, including equity investments and loans by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the trade and investment insurance facilities of Nippon Export and Investment Insurance.

3. Inform the Public of the Aims and Importance of ODA

The government must take the initiative to explain the following matters to the public. “It is consistent with Japan’s national interests to actively contribute to the resolution of various global problems through the provision of ODA and other forms of international cooperation. Peace and prosperity for Japan can only be achieved within the context of global peace and prosperity.”

As the next step in winning public understanding and support, clear priorities must be established to balance national interests with the demands and expectations of the international community. Priority areas in international cooperation should include: (1) poverty reduction; (2) investment in peace (conflict prevention, emergency humanitarian aid, peacebuilding); (3) support for sustained economic growth (infrastructure development, green innovation, etc.); and (4) developing supplies of natural resources, energy, and food.

Japan should consider putting a popular face on its ODA programs, as has been so effectively done in the appointment of Angelina Jolie as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. An actor or singer popular among young people can be appointed as goodwill ambassador for JICA.

Other programs to be considered include sending university students in International Relations to ODA fieldwork, encouraging them to participate in JICA volunteer projects, and creating greater opportunities for education on international exchange in elementary and junior high schools. Other possibilities include reinforcing regular meetings between NGOs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and promoting the exchange of personnel between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs/JICA, and NGOs.

It is also necessary to improve disclosure. In pursuit of this objective, information on ex-ante assessment, status of progress, and ex-post evaluation of all aid projects should be made accessible through official websites.

The above proposals have covered aspects such as formulation of strategies, creation of a centralized command post, budgetary issues, and generating public support and understanding. There is one additional issue that relates to all problems, and that is the development of human resources. People should be allowed to flexibly structure their careers. For example, career paths should be open for international aid workers to switch to the world of business. At GLOBIS, we have an individual who worked in the field of international cooperation in Vietnam for two years. The building in Kojimachi where GLOBIS is located is also home to JICA’s volunteers dispatch center. We are interested in working with JICA in extending JICA’s global network to within Japan as a means to winning public understanding.

One of the important pillars supporting Japan’s diplomatic power is ODA “with a heart”. Wherever one travels in the developing world, one is struck by the constant praise that is directed to Japanese aid. People are not only responding to the financial aspect of Japanese assistance. More importantly, they are moved by the humane aspect of aid as seen in the willingness of the Japanese to become a part of the local community and to make a sincere effort to assist that country. The Japanese spirit and bonds created with local communities are well appreciated and have taken root in the developing countries.

I earnestly hope that each one of us recognizes the need for ODA and together stands up to take action in its support. Let us not forget that ODA is an important trump card in the arsenal of Japanese diplomacy that can be used to simultaneously serve Japan’s national interests and the needs of developing countries and their people.

JICA is led by Sadako Ogata (at the time of writing in December 2011). The goals before us are very clear. First, human resources must be nurtured to follow in her footsteps. Second, strategies must be formulated, budgetary resources must be secured, and tools must be developed to win the support and understanding of the Japanese public.


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May 2012 Postscript:
"100 Actions" website has been launched.
For latest information, please see below:
"100 Actions"
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