Abe making up for lost time in Africa

Nippon basic president Yuichi Katsuura (right) is showing off a bicycle-powered water purifying system at the African Fair at Yokohama on Thursday. Japan is courting African nations for their huge mineral resources.

Japan'S Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is meeting some 40 African leaders individually over the next few days starting today on the fringe of a global conference to discuss economic development on the continent.

The marathon session of meetings and the three-day conference hosted by his government underline Mr Abe's desire to make up for lost time - against China.

China, like Japan, is also courting African nations for their huge mineral and energy resources and to secure contracts for infrastructure projects.

To show how important Africa is to China, its leader Xi Jinping toured Tanzania, South Africa and Congo shortly after he took office in March.

Partly to contend with China for Africa's favour, Mr Abe will announce the government's official development aid worth at least one trillion yen (S$12.6 billion) for the next five years at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development to be held in Yokohama, said the Nikkei business daily.

Coupled with expected corporate investments, Japan's public and private sectors look set to pour around three trillion yen into Africa by 2018, added Nikkei.

For Mr Abe, the African conference caps a busy diplomatic schedule that he has kept since taking office in late December.

So far, he has been to 10 nations, at times playing the role of Japan's top salesman to push nuclear power, high-speed rail and other technologies, and at other times helping to procure energy and other resources for his country.

On those trips, he took along businessmen, local government officials and university bigwigs. Instead of relying solely on officials to put those missions together, he reportedly called his own contacts to persuade them to take part.

Visits by Mr Abe to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Mongolia and, most recently, Myanmar have also been perceived as part of his attempt to cultivate like- minded partners to keep a rising China in check.

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