Japan’s New “Dev’t Cooperation Charter”: Securitization & Instrumentalization of Aid

In the Reality of Aid 2014, I wrote about the then ongoing revision of the Government of Japan’s ODA Charter. After almost a year’s process, the revised Charter, now renamed as “Development Cooperation Charter” was finally approved by the Cabinet on 10 February. It was first expected that the revised charter would be announced by the end of last year, but because of the general election, suddenly called by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, held on 14 December 2014, and some comments from the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party, the cabinet approval was delayed by more than a month.

Immediately after the government’s announcement on the new Charter, CSOs made an urgent statement, focused on two recommendations; 1) strictly adhere to “the Principle of Non-militarism” and 2) further strengthen cooperation with CSOs/NGOs of both developing countries and Japan to eradicate poverties and genuinely realize “Inclusive Growth.”

Several things in the new charter are welcome from CSO perspective; inclusion of “Promoting Women’s Participation” as one of the principles, strengthening partnership with CSOs as one of the “implementation arrangements,” a mention on the internationally-agreed 0.7% ODA/GNI target and emphasis on development education and public engagement.

    But, there are many concerns on the new Charter:

  1. The strengthened linkage between aid and security has been the biggest concern. Abe’s review of security policy has included allowing exercise of collective defense, a loosening of restrictions on arms export, and utilization of ODA for strategic purposes. When ODA Charter revision process started in March 2014, the Cabinet made it clear that the new charter is closely related to the National Security Strategy which was approved by them in December 2013. And the new Charter explicitly says that the National Security Strategy is the basis of the new Charter.
  2. And more specifically, the Abe Government made a shift away from the non-military principle of the past versions of the ODA Charter. Included among the principles of the 1992 and 2003 versions was: “any use of ODA for military purposes or for aggravation of international conflicts should be avoided.” This is based on the peace principle of our Constitution. The new one says:

    Japan will avoid any use of development cooperation for military purposes or aggravation of international conflicts. In case the armed forces or the members of the armed forces in recipient countries are involved in non-military purposes such as public welfare or disaster-relief purposes, such cases will be considered on a case-by-case basis in light of their substantive relevance.

    According to the OECD-DAC’s definition of ODA, “No military equipment or services are reportable as ODA. Anti-terrorism activities are also excluded. However, the cost of using donors’ armed forces to deliver humanitarian aid is eligible.” In practice, for many donors, there has always been ambiguity as to what could and couldn’t be counted as ODA. Japan, which traditionally strictly prohibited military aid is now suddenly stepping into the “gray zone.”

    In September 2014, CSOs have made the following recommendation as part of the “Japanese NGOs’ 10 Recommendations for the Revision Japan’s ODA Charter:

    Deployment of militaries in conflict or disaster affected areas, even if it were for ‘non-military purposes’, could further destabilize the power balance of the localities and cause new conflicts. If such military deployment were carried out in any relations with ODA, the local people would doubt the peaceful and humanitarian objectives of ODA and eventually lose their trust in Japan.

    Also CSOs are concerned that equipment provided for non-military purposes could be converted for military purposes in the future. The new Charter did not include measures to prevent it.

  3. Also the new Charter would open ways to make development cooperation as a means for Japanese commercial interests. At the beginning of the process, the “Japan’s Revitalization Strategy” (Abe’s domestic economy strategy) is another basis for the new Charter, while this was not explicitly described in the final version of the new Charter. Among the basic policies and the principles are “dialogue and collaboration based on Japan’s experience and expertise” and “cooperation that takes advantage of Japan’s strength.” The new Charter refers to the possibility of Japan “proactively presenting proposals while giving full consideration to policies, programs and institutions” of developing countries. These ideas might undermine the ownership principles agreed in Paris, Accra, Busan and Mexico City.
  4. I am not rejecting the idea of utilizing Japan’s experiences and expertise all together. But the problem is that these ideas seem to reflect the voices of Japan’s business community. A policy paper by the Japanese Business Federation (Keidanren), published in June 2014, made the following proposals; aid should be used to expand Japanese presence in the South; through public-private collaboration, Japan should proactively propose projects to developing countries’ governments; and use of Japanese knowledge and experiences through technical cooperation.

  5. There is also a criticism that the new charter is too growth-oriented. While the 1992 and 2003 charters had both poverty alleviation and growth as priorities, the new one has “’Quality growth’ and Poverty Eradication through such Growth.” While they say “quality growth” must be inclusive, sustainable and resilient, it sounds like growth is the priority and poverty eradication is the result of growth.
  6. The 1992 Charter emphasized the humanitarian and developmental objectives of ODA, while in 2003, “assuring Japan’s security and prosperity” was added to the aid objective. The new Development Cooperation Charter, especially with the first two concerns I raised in mind, seems a big shift in Japan’s aid objectives: away from emphasis on humanitarian and developmental objectives to emphasis on Japan’s self-interests; political/security and commercial. In the new Charter, it is explicitly written that development cooperation “will also lead to national interests.” Behind this is that narrow-minded nationalism and hawkish approach to foreign and security policies have been the characteristics of Abe Government. Also, that Japan increasingly has to compete with China, an emerging non-DAC having no will to comply with DAC’s norms and standards, is considered to be another factor behind Japan’s shift in its aid objectives.

    Is this a Japan-specific problem? The nature of Abe Government and all the difficult issues in China-Japan relationship have a lot to do with all the changes that, in sum, put more emphasis on “aid as an instrument for national interest.” But probably this is not a Japan-specific problem. Some DAC members have been going in similar directions.

    According to the DAC’s definition, ODA must be “administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective.” But the reality is that for donors ODA not only has humanitarian/developmental objectives, but also has been an instrument for pursuing self-interests, although, of course different donors have different objectives or priorities.

    Also a common challenge faced by most if not all traditional donors is that in the fields, they have to compete with emerging donors, particularly China, whose aid policies are considered to be dominated by political and commercial objectives.

    Japan’s case is maybe an extreme one, but a sad reality is that when the world has started negotiation to finalize the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a big donor which is revising aid policy, rather to emphasize self-interests and growth-oriented development vision. Of course one important role for us, CSOs, is to raise critical voices on the securitization and instrumentalization of aid by Japan and some other donors.

    Read the French and Spanish versions here.

    *Views expressed in this blog is personal and do not necessarily represent those of JANIC. Quotation of the Japan’s new Development Cooperation is from the Provisional translation prepared by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessible at:



    Akio Takayanagi is Policy Advisor for Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC) and is Professor of International Relations and International Development Studies at Ferris University in Yokohama, Japan.

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