West Africa Rising: Can Japan check China's clout in Africa?

At a meeting in Dakar, Senegal this week, Japanese diplomats laid out Japan's proposal for a permanent African seat on the United Nations Security Council.

West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

Japan's diplomatic corps flooded Dakar, Senegal, this week.

At a dome-topped conference hall not unlike the United Nations General Assembly, Japan's top dignitaries addressed leaders of Africa's 53 nations and laid out Japan's proposal for a permanent African seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Since the mid-1990s, Japan's government has sought a permanent seat for itself at the all-powerful deliberative body, but Asian rival China has used its clout as one of the five permanent members to block the bid.

Now, for the second time in decade, Japan is trying to dilute China's power on the council by demanding the UN pull up a chair for Africa.

"In the UN, 60 to 70 percent of the conversation is about Africa, but there is no representation for Africa on the UN security council," Japan's Secretary of State Chiaki Takahashi told reporters in Dakar. "Africa is getting a stronger voice in international affairs, so we think it's natural to see Africa gain membership on the Security Council."

Japan's Africa conference this week in the Senegalese capital comes six years after its first attempt to finagle a permanent seat for Africa.

"In 2005, the 'G4' countries – Japan, Brazil, Germany, India – pushed hard for the expansion of the Security Council to include two African permanent seats," said Satoru Satoh, spokesman for Japan's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday. "It was not successful for several reasons. One was because certain countries do not want to see the G4 expanding its power. The other one was because Africa itself could not agree on possible Security Council seat candidates."

Much has been written about China's foray into Africa. The country is building infrastructure in return for unhampered access to vast mineral reserves.

And yet much less has been said about Japan's.

The world's No. 3 economy doesn't buy raw materials or sell finished products on the continent in anywhere near the scale that China does. Japanese diplomats and businesspeople, however, expect that to change as Africa's growing middle class pumps demand for Japanese high-tech exports – its cars and gadgets.

"Right now, we only have 100 people working in 13 offices [in Africa], but in 10 years, we will definitely have double that," says Satoshi Chiba, a global strategist for Mitsubishi Corp. "We used to have small numbers in China and India, too. Africa is next."

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