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Decoding Japan Foreign Minister Kamikawa’s Tour of Africa, Europe, and South Asia

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Tokyo Report | Diplomacy | East Asia

Decoding Japan Foreign Minister Kamikawa’s Tour of Africa, Europe, and South Asia

Across this diverse geography, countering Chinese influence is one of Tokyo’s cardinal interests.

Decoding Japan Foreign Minister Kamikawa’s Tour of Africa, Europe, and South Asia

Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko (left) shakes hands with Nepali President Ramchandra Paudel during a courtesy call in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 5, 2024.

Credit: Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko conducted a six-nation tour of Madagascar, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, France, Sri Lanka, and Nepal from April 26 to May 6. This extensive tour traversed Africa, Europe, and South Asia, underscoring Japan’s expanding economic and strategic engagement, particularly within the South Asian subregion. 

Across this diverse geography, countering Chinese influence is one of Tokyo’s cardinal interests. At the same time, Japan’s active engagement with countries in Africa, Europe, and South Asia demonstrates Tokyo’s intended attempts to transcend the historical “passive power” approach. In pursuance of these goals, Japan’s diplomacy promotes the idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” along with Quad partners, to mixed responses. 

For instance, countries in Africa or the Middle East may not wish to be seen aligning with Quad countries that seek to limit China’s power. At the same time, some countries in South Asia are trapped in Chinese debt or fear such an outcome so they want to defuse China’s influence on their economy, infrastructure, development, and security. 

This tour certainly reflected upon some of these strategic calculations. 

Kamikawa’s Africa Outreach

Japan has been a subtle Asian power in Africa with its major development initiative – the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) – launched in 1993. The most recent iteration, TICAD 8, was held in Tunisia in August 2022; TICAD 9 is planned for August 2025, in Yokohama, Japan. In August 2024, Tokyo will host a TICAD ministerial meeting to pave the way for next year’s full summit.

Nigeria has been an active partner and beneficiary of TICAD. As the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, with its rich natural resources, including oil, Nigeria offers economic opportunities to many partners, including Japan. 

Tokyo is currently exploring investment opportunities in Nigeria amid China’s formidable presence and its substantial investments, which have topped $20 billion. Kamikawa’s recent tour of Nigeria, the first such visit by a Japanese foreign minister in 45 years, has clearly conveyed Tokyo’s intentions.

On the other hand, Japan’s ties with Cote d’Ivoire – another sub-Saharan African nation – are primarily defined by development cooperation. But what Japan is looking at today is the 370-mile-long coastline of Cote d’Ivoire—something that China, too, has eyes on. Cote d’Ivoire is a critical access point to the Atlantic Ocean and holds strategic importance for maritime routes, which would help Tokyo to safeguard energy security and access to offshore oil and gas reserves. 

Similarly, Japan is seeking to strengthen cooperation in the maritime domain with Madagascar, a maritime country located at a crucial juncture between the Indian Ocean and the east coast of Africa. Additionally, TICAD has been a primary tool of engagement with Madagascar. Now Japan intends to promote economic resilience and improve production technology for important minerals. 

The Indo-Pacific framework has been a key strategy for Japan while engaging with coastal countries worldwide, including in Africa. In 2017, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, while welcoming the president of Madagascar, emphasized cooperating in the maritime domain. Madagascar has also attached greater importance to “safe and free navigation, the rule of law, and peace and stability” and supports the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” that Japan promotes. 

Tokyo’s Limitations With France

Minister Kamikawa’s visit to France on May 4 was interesting as it came just few days before Chinese President Xi Jinping was welcomed in Paris on May 6. Tokyo’s and Beijing’s strategic focus on France attaches great importance to Paris’ role in the Indo-Pacific, in  both the security and trade domains. 

France has emerged as an exception in Europe for putting a face to its priorities in Asia. Paris does not want to join the attempted isolation of China by Quad members – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – nor does it succumb to Chinese pressure while deepening defense ties with India and “exceptional ties” with Japan. France also acknowledges an active and friendly alliance with the United States.  

France may be unwilling to agree on everything that Europe and leading Indo-Pacific players want it to deliver, yet it is keen on attracting investments from both Beijing and Tokyo. 

Japan and France continue to exchange views on the evolving China threat in the Indo-Pacific. However, there was not much to read between the lines as Kamikawa met her French counterpart, Stéphane Séjourné, except for concerns raised on Gaza and Ukraine. The overall engagement with France comes with a subtle acknowledgement of the power profiles that the two enjoy globally.

Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Indo-Pacific 

Kamikawa’s visits to Sri Lanka and Nepal conveyed Tokyo’s commitment to greater engagement in the Indian Ocean and the strategic Himalayas, keeping the Indo-Pacific strategy in the center. While Sri Lanka acknowledges the Indo-Pacific strategy, the communist regime in Nepal has severe discomfort with the former or anything related to it. 

As a landlocked country sharing its entire northern border with China, Nepal does not want to annoy Beijing, including uttering the words “Indo-Pacific” in any form. For example, Nepal’s objection to a $500 million grant under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) from the United  States was entirely premised on Chinese pressure against it. Beijing had already stamped the MCC as part of the grand U.S Indo-Pacific Strategy. In the end, Nepal’s parliament ratified the MCC – but was only able to do so because the communist coalition was in the off-again stage. 

Similarly, Sri Lanka, too, has been unable to defuse Chinese pressure in recent years. In the past ten years, Colombo and Kathmandu have been key destinations of Chinese influence after Beijing succeeded in influencing the key political lobbies in Nepal and Sri Lanka. For instance, under the Rajapaksa regimes (2005-15, 2019-22) in Sri Lanka, China stood as the biggest actor in all-important port development and infrastructure projects. 

China succeeded in keeping other external actors, including India and Japan, at bay in Sri Lanka. However, Colombo’s equation with Beijing seems to have changed following the Sri Lankan economic crisis, which saw the Rajapaksa clan ousted from the president and prime minister posts. With the Sri Lankan economy finding some stability following support from India, France, Japan, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Colombo has eventually shed its obsession with China and Chinese loans and is reconnecting with other important regional and global partners, including Japan. 

In 2023, visiting Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe apologized to the Japanese government for the unilateral termination of the Colombo Light Rail Transit (LRT) project. Once its debt restructuring agreements are finalized, Sri Lanka is again seeking the resumption of yen loans from Japan for existing projects. 

Apart from economic and humanitarian engagements, Japan wants to see Sri Lanka responding to the strategic calls for deepening ties in the maritime domain under the Indo-Pacific framework.

While Japan sees a direct geostrategic interest in Sri Lanka due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, Nepal offers Tokyo a better view of China on the Himalayan front. With historical ties premised on common belief and philosophy around Buddhism, Japan has been Nepal’s long-standing development partner and a leading investor. Also, Japan hosts more than 150,000 Nepalis, including students and workers, and the numbers are growing every year. 


If Tokyo seeks to avoid being sidelined amid China’s growing influence, it must intensify its engagement across Africa, Europe, and South Asia. This requires a proactive approach, including broader engagement with Africa beyond initiatives like TICAD. 

Additionally, Japan’s engagement with France must focus on diversifying ties beyond countering China. 

Meanwhile, Nepal and Sri Lanka present a unique opportunity for Japan, considering the rising resistance to Chinese investments and debt from Kathmandu and Colombo. As Japan navigates geopolitical complexities, its proactive role on the global stage becomes increasingly vital, not just for Tokyo but also for like-minded partners, including the United States, Japan, and India.