photo (Foreign Minister Taro Aso)

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Aso
ODA: Sympathy is Not Merely for Others' Sake

January 19, 2006
Venue: Japan National Press Club

Today, I am going to talk about Official Development Assistance (ODA), namely, about the various forms of economic cooperation we provide to other countries. At present, the modality of ODA is being vigorously debated. Amidst the general trend of striving to make a smaller government, the ODA policy is under public scrutiny.

Is there not any wastefulness in ODA? Is cost-effectiveness seriously taken into consideration? In the first place, for whom and for what purpose is ODA provided? Furthermore, should the current implementation structure be maintained?

As the minister of the government organ which plays a central role in ODA, I would like to first share with you my conclusion that I am aspiring to create a Security Council (of the Government of Japan)-like entity for ODA.

The Security Council, positioned under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister, discusses important matters of national defense. What about a proposal then to create a similar entity to discuss strategies regarding ODA under the Prime Minister?

It could certainly be said that ODA is implemented as "Sympathy is not merely for others' sake ("Your kindness will be rewarded in the end")" or "Charity is a good investment," as the Japanese proverb says, and that ODA will serve no good if implemented without a warm-hearted concern for others. However, it must not be forgotten that in the end ODA is implemented for Japan's own sake.

In other words, ODA is implemented to enhance the happiness and to raise the profile of Japan and its people in the world, and is a type of endeavor that should be considered with a broad and long-term perspective.

ODA is essentially about having other countries first use the precious money of the Japanese people for the benefit of the Japanese people later on. When you think about it, there are not many other endeavors which require such a long-term strategy as ODA.

Nowadays, however, it goes against the times to create a large entity. I therefore believe that it is more convenient to employ a compact meeting format in which major Cabinet ministers assemble.

I once lived in the Republic of Sierra Leone located in the very western part of West Africa for two years from 1970. I moved there when I was 30 and was there until I was 32.

I was dispatched on an assignment by my family's company. It is not at all important if you do not know this, but my family used to mine coal. The mission I was given was to mine diamonds in Sierra Leone.

This was at a time when there was no Japanese embassy or consulate. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) had not been dispatched to this country. I spent a life like that of JOCVs: drawing water and boiling it to take baths, and generating electricity by using a power generator. Despite such conditions I was the only person among those dispatched from my company who did not suffer from diseases such as amebic dysentery and malaria. Well this is just a small episode I wanted to share with you aside from my main point.

Since it was a site for mining diamonds, we could not be astonished by machine gun attacks all the time. However, our site was never attacked. We formally exchanged greetings and spoke with the heads of the tribes, generated electricity for them and gave them medicine. We never had to worry about our lives being at stake as we had won the trust of the local leaders.

Ever since then, I started to think, "It is often said that Japan's common sense goes against the common sense of the world. But people will say Japan's common sense is wonderful if we become more active in Africa."

This is based on my observation during those two years in which I did not see many Europeans or Americans who worked hard together with the local people contrary to Japanese people. While I should refrain from generalizing, I can say that it was only us Japanese who had taken an approach to work together with the local people, eye-to-eye.

It goes without saying that this approach has not changed and can be clearly seen both in the past and at present through the endeavors of the members of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), JOCVs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in the implementation of ODA projects in developing countries.

As you may have noticed, I am currently talking about something which touches upon the core of Japan's philosophy on assistance.

According to the Old Testament, labor is said to be a punishment that was bestowed upon Adam and Eve for failing to keep their promise with God. In the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), on the other hand, it is stated that Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, saw gods working in heaven when she stepped outside the weaving hut. Given that even the gods work, labor is regarded as a natural deed that will do good to the people according to Japanese mythology.

Labor was considered not only as an act in which people find joy but also as an important deed which will elevate our mind and improve society. The Japanese people both in the public and private sectors, whether engaged in ODA projects or business, have voluntarily demonstrated this and served as role models.

In Asia this was an act which broke the tradition of Confucian teachings. Likewise, in Africa and elsewhere, what we did was spread attitudes and practices which could even be said to be revolutionary. Furthermore, in both cases Japan taught a certain spiritual culture that is essential in the preparation for modernization.

I believe and have no doubt that what was evident here was the Japanese people's philosophy, which is extremely eloquent although tacit.

In recent years, it is vociferously claimed that diplomacy requires a selling point, i.e. "culture." I hear that it is referred to as the "soft power" in contrast to the apparent, exposed power. I believe these activities performed by the Japanese people are indeed the "soft power" we should take pride in. It is about working hard on the ground together with the local people while spreading the very concept of joy in labor. It is about aspiring to create a cultural base which will facilitate the independence of the aid recipient country through these acts.

Let me give one example. Recently, I visited India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In Delhi, the capital of India, a subway system is under construction using the ODA provided by Japan. A part of it is already in service and is being appreciated tremendously by the people of India.

For one thing, the level of convenience has improved. However, what the people of India appraise more is that the Japanese people who were involved in the construction of the subway system had shown the Japanese workers' diligent working style in the very center of their capital city. The Japanese workers demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility in meeting deadlines while respecting safety rules. They also demonstrated an attitude not just to disregard the project once it is completed, but to work hard, sweating to offer cooperation even long after the project has been completed.

These are the reasons why India, which had been rather cautious in accepting assistance from other countries, has come to say that it strongly wishes to receive assistance from Japan.

In this sense, ODA is serving as a respectable means to export Japanese culture. This is the reason why I say that I highly approve "checkbook diplomacy." Let us keep on writing out checks for now while Japan still has money, as the Japanese people sweating in labor goes hand-in-hand with the checks that Japan writes out. Those checks are handed out together with our word of encouragement, "Make your destiny your own!" In short, "checkbook diplomacy" is a method to appeal to other countries Japan's original philosophy on labor.

If I were to speak to those who have doubts about the meaning of ODA, I would tell them the above. The government is taking a broad and long-range approach on ODA, which is an important means to disseminate Japanese values.

I believe that by now you understand why Japan has been attaching importance to lending money in the form of yen loans. Our belief has been that the value of assistance will depreciate to a mere almsgiving unless the local people have the will to develop their country by working for themselves. It is for these reasons that we have been offering loans, not simply grants.

Of course thorough scrutiny is necessary as people's money is used for these projects. Starting from fiscal year 2006, the government will further strengthen third-party evaluation of ODA. We highly welcome assessments conducted by NGOs as were implemented on the assistance for damage caused by the major earthquake off the coast of Sumatra and Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

As for ODA, recently there is a trend to talk about its new purpose and meaning. In short, such policies under which ODA were provided simply because the recipient is poor are a thing of the past. Although they may appear similar, domestic social welfare policies such as livelihood assistance and child allowances, or policies to redistribute income, are becoming more and more different from ODA that is provided abroad.

If for example ODA is taken to be a type of welfare project, there is no reason why any country should tackle ODA on its own. This would mean that the appropriate method is to set up a mechanism under which all of the ODA of developed countries are pooled into an organization such as the World Bank and the money is distributed to developing countries based on certain standards. However, nobody in the world is aiming to have that kind of system.

There are advantages, of course, to providing assistance through utilizing international organizations. However, I think that when nation-states provide assistance to other countries, the essential fact should not be forgotten that we implement ODA for our own benefit in the end.

In other words I am saying that ODA should be understood to be a "political policy measure designed to build an international environment favorable to one's nation with a view to eventually forming a better international community."

It is probably difficult to discuss these points abstractly. So I once again will return to the examples of India and Pakistan, which I visited on the same trip.

If the present trend continues, it is forecasted that India will become the largest recipient of yen loans from Japan for a third consecutive year. Pakistan suffered from the sudden tragedy of the major earthquake so it was decided that it will receive assistance of approximately 200 million US dollars from Japan.

India has been increasing its influence in the international community as a result of its remarkable economic growth in recent years. India, the world's largest democratic country with a population of one billion, and Japan, are coordinating their efforts on a number of important issues including United Nations reform and the form a future East Asian community might take. It is desirable for Japan, which forms a strategic scrum with India, and for the international community, including China, that India increases its strength as one stabilizing force in Asia.

This is precisely why it can be said that Japan is trying to strengthen mutual ties with India by providing ODA.

On the other hand Pakistan is a front line state in the fight against terrorism. Since ancient times it has been a strategically important transport juncture, and many people may not realize this, but it shares a land border with Iran.

Helping to build the infrastructure of such a country will lead to stability in Afghanistan and central Asia and also has the value of conserving the distribution routes in the surrounding region. As the leading trading nation in Asia, Japan will suffer if Pakistan is not a calm stabilizing force. You can understand here too the situation in which assistance for Pakistan is also in line with the interests of Japan.

Given this situation, while I was in India and Pakistan I kept thinking that Japan's ODA to these countries will become more and more important in the future.

To put it differently, Japan's ODA should be used abundantly in the future for the objectives of enhancing and expanding ties between Japan and countries with the same interests and aspirations as Japan. In other words, these are the objectives of building a type of policy coalition or encouraging the stability of other countries on which Japan's prosperity is built.

Japan is among the first in the world to strictly maintain self-restraint regarding the use of military force. ODA has much greater meaning as a policy measure for such a country than it does for other countries.

However, please do not forget the fact that the ODA I just mentioned includes cases with immediate results as well as those that do not produce instantaneous results.

In order to contribute to the development goals set by the UN, Japan is continuing its efforts towards the goal of providing ODA equal to 0.7% of our gross national income (GNI). We intend to increase ODA by 10 billion US dollars over a five year period. Why are we trying to achieve this? On the basis of what ideas are we proceeding? I tried today to explain these points as well as I can.

As I stated at the beginning, in light of the highly strategic nature of ODA, I would like to see meetings held, under the strong leadership of the Prime Minister, to discuss from a broad perspective how ODA should be utilized towards the most important international issues Japan should tackle. ODA is a diplomatic tool so it is the Minister for Foreign Affairs that should assume the primary coordination role of ODA policy, The Prime Minister and a few Cabinet ministers should also debate how to use ODA from a wide perspective face-to-face. This is different to the approach by which consultation is carried out by passing a policy document around among officials. I intend to work very hard at these meetings. And, depending on the circumstances, I would also like to invite professionals of financial and technical cooperation and intellects from the private sector.

Then talking of concrete policy planning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs possesses a network and a pool of human knowledge and experience which it has assiduously built up since the end of the war. It would be a waste not to use these resources. If they are not used there will be an excessive waste of resources and overlapping investment. This is not appropriate in an era calling for a small government.

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there are for example regional experts who can speak Hindi or Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, among other languages, and the Ministry has a network of over a hundred diplomatic missions worldwide. They are working hard on the ground with experts from aid implementation organizations and are accumulating experience in economic cooperation. At the same time, they are being trained to always keep in mind to pursue Japan's national interests. By no means am I trying to say that their capabilities are sufficient, but the idea of trying to build a human resources network from scratch to replace them is daunting.

Of course, it is inherently a difficult challenge because ODA is an attempt to support the economic development of developing countries from the outside. Until now various new measures have been introduced to substantially improve ways of providing assistance but I intend to continue to further improve ODA in the future in consultation with scholars, the business world, members of NGOs, and other knowledgeable persons.

Finally, I will once again talk about the site where assistance is implemented.

In about 1987 I think, when I was the head of the Liberal Democratic Party's Youth Bureau, I called on participants from the youth branches in each prefecture to go overseas once a year. We actually went overseas a few times. However our destinations were limited to countries in which JOCVs were working. These were trips not suitable for anyone who insists on staying in a hotel with hot running water.

When I went to see for myself, the young JOCV volunteers were in fact working tirelessly. They looked so happy it was a little disarming. I always felt a lot of admiration for these dashing young people. I felt that I saw many of these beautiful Japanese people who did not think of toil as toil and considered working as a virtue.

What do you think these young people most wanted as a gift from me? The answer is comic books. This was a welcome request to me. I am a fan of comic books myself so this was not a difficult request to grant. I just gave them the comic books I had packed into my travel bag intending to read them myself. These comic books were a big hit with the volunteers.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Back to Index