Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Need to Place Development Aid in the Mainstream of Japanese Policy Making
OKAMURA Kunio / Senior Special Advisor, JICA

July 25, 2012
Today, a great number of people in the world are feeling uncertain and anxious about the future. Unfortunately, this is not an exaggeration.

The euro crisis has reached the height of confusion in Europe, the global balance of power is undergoing drastic change amid low growth in advanced countries and the rise of newly emerging countries, countries that celebrated the Arab Spring have experienced complications and the actual worrying situation in Syria resulting in greater insecurity in the Middle East, our response to changes in the environment and climate has been slow, and poverty and inequality persist despite some progress in recent years. In our world today, both the benefits and problems of globalization transcend the conventional floodgates of country and region, instantly spilling over far and wide, and diverse interests have become intricately intertwined.

Faced with this reality, contemporary politics and politicians have been unable to offer effective solutions in a timely and accurate manner. At the G20 held in Mexico, the best they could do was to agree on a common direction on the European crisis, and discussions on other pressing issues seem to have been discarded. And despite the growing severity of the state of the environment and poverty, the RIO+20, which was attended by a total of 50,000 participants including many heads of states, ended without producing significant accomplishments. No common ground for the international community is in sight and the creation of a new international order remains elusive. Voters have become increasingly disillusioned by politics, and as a result we find ourselves in a situation where decisions are easily swayed towards more visible policies that offer partial, short-term benefits, which are also often protectionist.

Let us now turn to Japan. Its problems are manifold, including an economic slump, massive budget deficits and an aging population. At the point of writing (end of June), neither G20 nor RIO+20 is on Japan's political agenda. Debate over the consumption tax has instead dominated the scene. A recent poll sought public opinion on areas of the budget that should be cut in exchange for the rise in the consumption tax. Results showed that salaries of public servants ranked first, followed by the ODA (Official Development Aid) budget. Those of us responsible for development aid are to be blamed for much of this outcome. Simply doing the right thing does not win us automatic recognition.

According to the DAC's (Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) statistics for2011, the total ODA performance of DAC countries' net disbursements declined for the first time since 1997, reflecting their difficult fiscal situations. In retrospect, amid the general trend of aid fatigue that followed the end of the Cold War era, Japan had increased its aid as an undisputed new economic power, maintaining its position as the top donor throughout the 1990s. 1997 actually marked the peak of Japan's ODA budget. Since then, in contrast to western countries that began increasing their aid based on the Millennium Development Goals, Japan's ODA budget continued to fall to less than half its peak levels today, placing it fifth in terms of net disbursements among DAC countries.

And what of the future? Climate change is expected to cause natural disasters of greater severity and requires an immediate global response. In a world that is already fragile, there is a growing need for eliminating factors that prevent stable development, such as poverty and inequality. One of the few achievements of RIO+20 reported by the media was the "Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)." While their targets and method of goal setting are yet to be decided, it is highly likely that the SDGs will become an important guideline for the future of the world. Furthermore, as newly emerging countries in Asia and other regions continue to demonstrate a remarkable track record in development, we are looking ahead to a world centered on countries currently categorized as developing countries.

In light of these developments, what should Japan do now? I would like to propose placing development aid in the mainstream as one of its possible actions. The reasons are as follows.

First, due to its high dependence on the international community, it is imperative that Japan maintain and reinforce favorable international relations as well as its status in the world. World stability and peace is the very foundation of Japan's prosperity. And development aid is an important tool to that end.

Second, the stated purpose of development aid is to take actions that will bring certain benefits to future generations. Development aid is thus noteworthy for offering a more reliable promise for the future compared with other investments.

Third, in the global pursuit for a future model of a "sustainable society," Japan has much to offer as a country that has been tackling the issue from early on. By strengthening its development aid and placing it in the mainstream, Japan can promote its initiatives as a Win-Win process. Today, cities consume a large proportion of various natural resources and emit nearly 70% of greenhouse gases. Against this reality, many Japanese cities have been engaged in an effort to build a low-carbon system by limiting consumption of natural resources and recycling. Kita Kyushu, Yokohama and Kawasaki are among the many pioneering examples. Their experience can be turned to great use by developing countries that are currently facing rapid urbanization.

I should also add that either directly or indirectly, development aid exerts a positive impact not only on diplomacy but also on various areas including trade and investment, finance, security and global issues, which all constitute the pillars of a country's foreign policy. Precisely because we live in a world made of a complicated web of interests, making development aid our mainstream policy presents itself as an option that is at once smart and clever.

The writer is Senior Special Advisor of the JICA, Japan International Cooperation Agency.
(Opinions expressed in this article belong to the writer and does not necessarily represent JICA’s standpoint.)
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

岡村 邦夫 / 国際協力機構 上級審議役

2012年 7月 25日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Need to Place Development Aid in the Mainstream of Japanese Policy Making