TOKYO - The increasingly fierce
competition between Japan and China over energy
and political influence is spilling over into
Following in the footsteps of
Beijing, Tokyo has recently begun to turn to the
continent as a new source of oil. Meanwhile, the
two Asian neighbors have had their leaders make
whirlwind tours of Africa recently.
Japan has almost ignored Africa as an
energy-resource supplier, China has been
aggressively pursuing oil and gas interests in
Africa. Japan and China are the world's No 3 and
oil consumers, respectively. And they are both hungry for energy
to feed their economies,
the world's No 2 and No 4, respectively, in terms
of gross domestic product.
almost all of its oil, nearly 90% of which
the Middle East. Deeply concerned about its energy
security amid stubbornly high global oil prices
and the red-hot global rush for oil and other
energy resources, Japan's Ministry of Economy,
Trade and Industry (METI) released recently a new
strategy aimed at ensuring stable oil, gas and
other energy-resource supplies in the long term.
The New National Energy Strategy calls
for, among other things, strengthening relations
with resource-rich countries, securing energy
resources abroad through the fostering of more
powerful domestic energy companies, and boosting
to 40% by 2030 from the current 15% the ratio of
"Hinomaru oil", or oil developed and imported
through domestic producers.
Toshihiro Nikai announced recently that Japan will
send a high-powered mission, including the head of
the METI-affiliated Agency for Natural Resources
and Energy, to Libya to strengthen bilateral ties
in energy and other areas. Libya has an estimated
39 billion barrels of oil reserves, the world's
Last October, Japan scored
a coup in its oil diplomacy. Five Japanese
enterprises won international tenders to acquire
the rights to develop a combined six oil blocks in
Libya. The deals marked the first oil-exploration
concession ever given to Japanese firms in Libya.
Japan is also eyeing interests in
oilfields in the rest of Africa. The government
sent a fact-finding mission of officials from oil
developers, trading firms and engineering firms to
Mauritania and Chad early this year. Mauritanian
Petroleum and Energy Minister Mohamed Aly visited
Tokyo recently and met with Nikai. The two
ministers agreed to cooperate in developing oil
resources in the northwestern African country.
Nikai pledged to send a high-level private-public
mission to Mauritania soon, led by the head of the
Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
Japan thinks the development of oilfields
in other African countries such as Equatorial
Guinea and Ivory Coast is also promising.
While Japan has largely ignored Africa as
a source of its badly needed oil, not all Japanese
oil developers have shied away from making forays
there. AOC, for example, signed a
production-sharing contract with Egypt in July
2005 for oil and gas exploration and development
in the Northwest October block in the Gulf of
Suez. AOC plans to start production there during
fiscal 2008. Teikoku Oil is more active in Egypt.
It was awarded two blocks through an international
tender in June 2005 - the South October and North
Earlier, Teikoku Oil had
acquired interests in the West Bakr and Southeast
July blocks. Teikoku Oil also made inroads into
the Algerian oil and gas sectors several years
ago. It is participating in development projects
in Ohanet and El Ouar I and II blocks. Teikoku Oil
has also participated in an offshore oil
development project in the Democratic Republic of
Congo since the 1970s.
Japan's new focus
on Africa as a source of energy resources,
especially oil, appears to have been prompted
partly by China's aggressive forays into the
continent's energy sector, as exemplified by
recent visits by President Hu Jintao and Premier
Wen Jiabao. Hu visited three African countries,
including Nigeria, the continent's largest oil
producer. Wen visited seven countries, including
Angola, the continent's second-largest oil
China is fueling the recent
global rush for oil and other energy reserves.
China now depends on imports for more than 40% of
its oil. The International Energy Agency predicts
this will rise to 75% in 2030. Competition for
energy sources has increased tensions between
China and Japan. The Asian neighbors are locked in
a simmering fracas over Chinese gas projects in
the disputed waters in the East China Sea. They
have also lobbied hard for alternative routes for
a pipeline from eastern Siberia's oilfields to
Pacific Rim nations.
aggressiveness in the global oil market drew
particularly widespread attention last summer when
China National Offshore Oil Corp launched an
unsuccessful takeover bid for US oil-and-gas firm
Still, China has gotten its hands
on many foreign oil deposits in the past year or
two, including some in Africa. China won oil
interests off the coast of Angola after wooing
that African country with a US$2 billion credit
line. China also made the $2.27 billion purchase
of a 45% stake in the Akpo offshore oil-and-gas
field in Nigeria. China secured four oil-drilling
licenses from Nigeria during Hu's African tour.
The ratio of crude-oil imports from Africa to
China's overall imports of the fuel has reached
30%. China's focus is on Nigeria, Angola and
Sudan. It is possible that Angola has already
replaced Saudi Arabia as China's largest oil
To be sure, Japan has also
stepped up its Africa diplomacy in recent years.
But this has been driven mainly by a strong desire
to gain support from the continent's 53 countries
for Japan's bid for a permanent United Nations
Security Council seat.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a few months ago
visited Ethiopia, where the African Union is
headquartered. Japan has hosted the
ministerial-level Tokyo International Conference
on African Development three times since 1993 to
muster international support for the region, still
plagued by poverty, conflict and infectious
diseases. Japan will host the fourth TICAD in
2008. Japan, the world's second-largest donor of
official development assistance (ODA) after the
United States, has chipped in about 10% of such
money extended directly to developing countries.
At the Asian-African summit in Jakarta in April
last year, Koizumi announced a decision to double
Japanese ODA for Africa in three years.
However, China seems to be outdoing Japan
in forging closer economic relations - and
increasing influence - with Africa.
African-Chinese trade totaled $40 billion in 2005,
up 35% from 2004. This figure eclipses
African-Japanese trade, which totaled $18 billion
in 2005. In addition, China's investment in Africa
is rising sharply, and Beijing boasts a proactive
record on aid and debt relief, having given more
than $5.5 billion in assistance and canceled the
debt of 31 countries.
China does not seem
to be fussy about where its oil comes from. It
gets oil in Sudan, for example, despite the
international uproar over the Darfur crisis. To be
sure, Japan won concession rights for oil and gas
in Sudan in June last year. But the winner,
Systems International Group, is a company newly
established by a Japanese non-governmental
organization, Reliance. It plans to use the profit
from oil development in eastern Sudan to finance
humanitarian support in Africa.
appetite for oil and other resources is not the
only reason for Beijing's active charm diplomacy
Taiwan announced early this
month that it was breaking off diplomatic
relations with Chad, just hours before a planned
trip by Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang to the
Central African country. Su's trip was canceled. A
Taiwanese spokesman said Chad was under pressure
from Beijing to end its relations with Taiwan, so
the island's leaders made the break before Chad
could move on its own. The spokesman charged that
China had been using its status as a permanent
Security Council member and its ability to
influence events in the neighboring African nation
of Sudan to persuade Chad to cut ties.
first glance, many African countries seem to be
benefiting from China's runaway economic growth.
Critics say that Beijing's interest in Africa is
driven by self-interest and that it is prepared to
ignore political, environmental and humanitarian
considerations in its search for energy resources.
They also say that oil wealth could entrench
corruption in countries while natural resources
are controlled by small elites.
China, Japan, the self-proclaimed champion of
democracy in Asia, cannot turn a blind eye to poor
records on democracy and human rights in many
African countries. Japan has applied strict
criteria for aid provision to developing countries
in Asia, Africa and elsewhere in the world, with
democracy and human-rights protection as basic
China's influence in Africa
looks set to grow further. The emerging economic
powerhouse seems to be seen by some African
leaders as a role model for their own nations. The
odds seem to be in China's favor.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based
journalist, commentator and scholar on
international politics and economy. Masaki's
e-mail address is[email protected]