社説:ODA白書 国民理解深める努力を

(Mainichi Japan) March 27, 2012
Editorial: Japan has duty to help other nations through ODA
社説:ODA白書 国民理解深める努力を

One point of note in the recently completed Ministry of Foreign Affairs whitepaper on Japan's overseas Official Development Assistance (ODA) programs is how many of the nations that came to this country's assistance after the March 2011 disasters did so expressing thanks for those ODA efforts. The report highlights once more how important ODA is, that it is in fact one of the pillars of Japanese foreign policy. However, we must make sure that the Japanese people know this as well.

Analysis of the links between last year's natural disasters and Japan's ODA programs comes at the very beginning of the whitepaper -- entitled "ODA and Japan's bonds with the world" -- which states that other nations are "strongly calling on Japan to overcome the Great East Japan Earthquake and make active international contributions starting with continuing ODA programs."

Japan's ODA heyday came in the 1990s, when it was spending more than 1 trillion yen per year on foreign development programs -- the highest of any country in the world at the time. Since then, however, budget crunches have seen that amount decline, and Japan is now fifth in the world in ODA spending behind the United States, Britain, Germany and France. The proposed ODA budget for fiscal 2012 stands at 561.2 billion yen, and while Japan's spending drops, other nations are upping their program budgets. In 2010, Britain increased its ODA outlays by 20 percent, while Germany and France are also spending more.

Japan's total spending on ODA programs is just 0.2 percent of gross national income (GNI), ranking it 20th among the 23 nations with major foreign assistance programs, which spend an average of 0.32 percent of GNI on ODA efforts. Meanwhile the current cellar-dweller, South Korea, plans to boost its ODA budget to 0.25 percent of GNI by 2015, meaning it could soon overtake Japan. With China also boosting foreign aid, especially to African nations, Japan's presence on the international ODA stage is getting slowly weaker.

Amid all this, Japanese public support for ODA spending is sliding. According to a 2011 Cabinet Office survey, public support for ODA stood at just 27 percent -- a 5 point drop from the year before. Also, the percentage of respondents who said ODA spending should stay at about current levels went from 43 in 2010 to 47 in 2011. Meanwhile, public worries over the opacity and efficiency of long-term ODA programs seem to persist. Furthermore, it's likely that now, after last year's terrible disasters, the Japanese people would prefer the nation's coin be spent on helping survivors rebuild their lives. ODA programs do indeed use up a lot of taxpayers' money, and it's perfectly natural that debate on ODA be fierce.

However, the basic foreign policy principle behind the programs -- that ODA helps build global stability, and global stability is connected to domestic stability -- is absolutely correct.

"It is the duty of Japan as one of the world's leading nations to take on the resolution of global issues," the foreign ministry whitepaper states, and so it is. It is not enough, however, to simply repeat this principle. Exactly how ODA works in Japan's interest must be explained properly to a skeptical public.

To take a couple of examples from the whitepaper, the public should know that products from the disaster areas in northeast Japan are being used in projects to help developing countries, and that ODA leads to business opportunities for Japanese firms providing, for instance, energy-saving and environmental technologies. There is also a need to think about ways to better the quality of ODA initiatives.

Japan began its ODA efforts in 1954 as a way to make war reparations, secure resources and promote peace. The aims of the programs, however, have changed in line with the times. To make sure that Japanese ODA meets the needs of this era, we call on our politicians to take the lead in deepening public debate on what forms our foreign assistance should take.

毎日新聞 2012年3月27日 2時33分

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