Sadako Ogata: Discuss nuts and bolts before deciding aid policy

March 13, 2012

Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said more discussions are needed to form strategies for international assistance.

Excerpts from her interview with The Asahi Shimbun follow:

Question: You will resign as JICA president at the end of this month after serving for eight-and-a-half years. How do Japanese politics look today?

Ogata: We had a long period of one-party rule under the Liberal Democratic Party, so I expected that a change of government would mean change for Japan, too. But things fell short of my expectations. I was especially surprised when the budget screening process targeted JICA projects. The screeners had little interest in the nuts and bolts of assistance to developing countries and just talked about "budget cuts, budget cuts." It was very unfortunate.

Q: The government's budget for official development assistance began to shrink during the LDP's time.

A: Japan started becoming inward-looking. Although today we feel it only natural that we should be prosperous, we've become incapable of seeing our surroundings, and we've developed an attitude that says we've given plenty and that's enough. Like in the past, we should know that there are countries in need of assistance.

Q: You're saying that it used to be different?

A: In the late 1970s, former Prime Ministers Takeo Fukuda and Masayoshi Ohira devoted their energies to giving assistance to China and providing relief to refugees in Indochina. We couldn't spare the strength as a nation, but as a fellow Asian country, it was clear to Japan that we should give them appropriate assistance. Yoshiro Mori was the first Japanese prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa. These kinds of things have led to good relationships.

Q: What sort of perspective should we have?

A: The Great East Japan Earthquake helped us understand that international aid is about interdependence. Until then, aid had just traveled one way from Japan, but the idea sprouted in developing countries that Japan is also a country in need of assistance, and this caused them to try and lend a hand this time. When you make a system of foreign relations, you need to see that it's a mutually complementary relationship of what you're going to take and what you'll give.

Q: Hasn't the environment around Japan changed?

A: Let's take China, for example. The country has grown large and stable, so they can help next with assistance to developing countries. Around three years ago, when I met current Vice Premier Li Keqiang, with African aid in mind he said, "Exchanging information with Japan on international aid would be a good thing."

You must make objective judgments about your own country's interests, the interests of other countries in the world and of local interests, as well as think strategically about what to concede, how to collaborate and where to express opposition. Politicians and bureaucrats have big responsibilities. There is too little discussion, including in the media, about what direction Japan should head in.

Q: The idea of letting the Self-Defense Forces join in peacekeeping operations is taking root. How do you feel about this development?

A: When East Timor became independent in 2002, the Ground Self-Defense Force worked on such projects as road and bridge maintenance. It went great. On the other hand, I wish we had sent the SDF to the South Sudanese capital of Juba earlier. JICA has been active there for at least seven or eight years. We could have worked with the SDF if they had been dispatched sooner.

Q: What can Japanese politics do to make a contribution to the international community?

A: Rather than considering how aid to the developing world will affect our relationship with the United States or basing it on what we see other countries do, we should first look at what's actually happening before deciding on policies.

Our efforts to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in the 2000s proved fruitless and now it seems very unlikely to happen. However, the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan in Tokyo last July was bolstered by Japan's experience and our achievements in assisting developing countries. I'd like us to display leadership in this area.

(The interview was conducted by staff writer Takayuki Hayashi and editorial writer Noriyuki Wakisaka.)

* * *

Sadako Ogata is president of Japan International Cooperation Agency. After graduating from University of the Sacred Heart, she studied international relations at Georgetown University and other institutes. Ogata took the current post in October 2003 after serving as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Sadako Ogata (Photo by Hikaru Uchida)

Sadako Ogata (Photo by Hikaru Uchida)

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  • Sadako Ogata (Photo by Hikaru Uchida)

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