China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy, is building a bullet train network across its vast land mass as fast as you can say 'shinkansen', and may even be launching a probe to Mars in 2013. It has even got cash to spare to aid African nations (albeit with an eye on their natural resources).
So is it perverse that Japan still supplies overseas development assistance to its beefed-up neighbour? Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara seems to think so, having ordered his staff to look into cutting Tokyo’s ODA budget to Beijing.
The most recent data shows that Japan handed China approximately $65.9 million in grants and technical cooperation in fiscal 2008. Tokyo has provided Beijing with more than $3.6 billion since it first extended aid in 1979.
Such assistance was originally granted to assist China as a developing nation, with a proviso added in the Foreign Ministry’s development assistance charter that ‘full attention should be paid to efforts for promoting democratization and the introduction of a market-oriented economy, and the situation regarding the protection of basic human rights and freedoms in the recipient country.’
Yet while the Chinese government’s disdain for reform is blatant, Japan was motivated less by lofty ideals and more by an effort to make amends for its wartime atrocities. A Kyodo news report mentioned that some Japanese officials ‘fear a possible negative impact from severing the aid because it has helped ease anti-Japanese sentiment among Chinese people and facilitated an environment in which Japanese firms can do business in China.’
Economic disparities are another reason for granting aid, but given that the Chinese government controls the nation’s purse strings, and with its economy rapidly expanding, Beijing should be capable of eventually narrowing such inequalities.
It would also seem somewhat paradoxical for Japan to continue supplying China with aid given that Tokyo appears to be building up its military presence to counter Beijing’s perceived threat.
Bilateral ties took a battering last year when a Chinese fishing boat rammed a couple of Japanese coast guard vessels. The effects of this incident are still being felt, but they should in no way be grounds for slashing assistance to China. The only rationale for cutting aid should be to free up money to help people in countries that really do need assistance.