At the meeting of 23 world leaders at the World Commission on Environment and
Development in London on 24 April 1992, Dr. Saburo Okita, the former Japanese Foreign
Minister declared that Japan would take over leadership in protecting the environment and
aiding world development if President Bush failed to meet that responsibility. He added:
'We are not trying to overtake on military leadership - the US have that and will
keep it - but if they do not wish to take on other responsibilities, we have agreed to do
The aggressive stance taken by Japan on development aid and on the environment did not
come as a surprise to informed Japan watchers. The fact is that Japan is rapidly emerging
as the world's dominant economic power. Japanese who are 2.6% of the world's population
and who live on 0.1% of its inhabitable area, produce 10% of world economic production.
Japanese economic success has also meant increasing economic muscle outside the
country. Japan has increasingly become the lender and donor of first resort. Its financial
institutions are now responsible for a third of all international credit. A single
Japanese company, Nomura, was responsible for financing a third of the huge US national
debt. Japanese overseas aid in 1989 totalled 9 billion US$ compared to US aid of a mere
7.7 billion US$. As a percentage of GNP, Japan's aid budget was more than double that of
the US. That was in 1989 and Japan has aggressively increased its aid programme year by
Japan is the principal aid donor and trading partner throughout the Asian-Pacific third
world. For instance, Japan is Burma's largest donor, accounting for 80% of all official
government aid to the military regime.
In 1990, Japan was the largest single aid donor to Sri Lanka,
accounting for around 35% of the total grant. More significantly, the Japanese
contribution was more than four times that made by any other single country. The other
substantial contributions, amounting to about 20% each, came from the World Bank and the
Asian Development Bank.
Aid means big business for Japan. Japanese Overseas Develop-ment Assistance (ODA)
effectively re cycles yen collected as taxes back to Japanese companies. Unlike other
donor countries Japan has no agency with overall responsibility for aid. ODA decision
making is spread across the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the powerful
Ministry of International Trade and Industry. This makes it easier for individual
corporate clients to have access to ODA funds.
Not unnaturally Japan's profile in the UN has gone up several notches in recent times.
On a recent visit to Japan, US Secretary of State James A.Baker warned Japan against
relying on 'cheque book diplomacy' to protect its narrow interests. More recently, it
appears that Japan has joined forces with the US on nuclear non proliferation and warned
India of 'an aid cut off if India does not tame its nuclear ambitions'.
Early this year, it was reported that a key Japanese official in Colombo had asked
the Sri Lanka government to give coverage to opposition parties in the state owned
Rupavahini television. It was not without significance that Rupavahini itself was an
outright gift from Japan. The statement of the same official that the privately owned Sri
Lanka Island newspaper was the only independent newspaper in Sri Lanka was seen as a clear
intrusion in local politics.
But, be that as it may, Japan is also seen as providing some leverage for Third World
governments, such as Sri Lanka, when dealing with Euro-American pressures. An often
expressed view is that 'Asians feel more comfortable with the Japanese and are hanging
their hopes on them because they are not such sticklers for rules and laws.' The Japanese
have tried to play this card to their best advantage - portraying themselves as an
alternative to white global domination.
Coupled with its aid programme, the other major thrust of Japan's economic expansion is
linked to its pollution abatement technologies. For instance, a major Japanese
construction company is planning a second Panama Canal, the Kra Isthmus Canal to the Gulf
of Thailand, a new Silk Road (a super highway across Asia to Europe), a bridge across the
Straits of Gibraltar, a huge Central African Lake, and a global network of power stations.
According to the promoters, these projects will not only save the earth but stimulate
Technological solutions to the ecological calamity are the centre piece of Japanese
industrial and corporate policy. Not surprisingly, Japan which has built its prosperity on
finding new 'techno fixes' , sees itself as taking a lead role in the ultimate 'techno
fix' - how to handle pollution and protect the environment. Japanese business believes
that these will be profitable areas for the growth industries of the coming decades.
The statement in London on April 24, focusing as it did, on aid and ecology, marked
out the area for Japanese leadership: ex Foreign Minister Dr.Saburo Okita, almost
patronisingly, left the 'military leadership' to the US. After all, it is money which
makes the world go round.