The new Moroccan diplomatic effort seems to be increasingly shifting its focus towards convincing the international community of the “credibility” of the Moroccan autonomy proposal.
Rabat – Nasser Bourita, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is leading an important Moroccan delegation at this year’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) meeting in Yokohama, as the North African country looks to advance the already robust relationship with Japan.
Japan and Morocco seem to have put last year’s row over the participation of “high-ranking” Polisario delegation at a Japanese government-organized meeting in Tokyo behind them. This year, Morocco is effectively represented among the over 4000 participants at the TICAD meeting.
The Bourita-led delegation comprises, among others, Mohcine Jazouli, Delegate Minister for African Cooperation; Abdelkader El Ansari, the chief of the Asian and Oceania division at the foreign affairs ministry; Mohamed Methqal, the chair of the Moroccan Agency of International Cooperation (AMCI), and the Moroccan Ambassador to Japan, Rachad Bouhlal.
Japan wants to assert global presence
This year’s TICAD theme focuses on the human aspects of the relationship between Japan and its African partners.
The theme is tailored to Japan’s usual message to its African partners. It conveys the idea that Tokyo’s interest in the continent is not only in investing in traditional, economic sectors, but also—and importantly—in equipping the continent’s leaders and future decision makers with the adequate tools to confront the challenges to come.
Initiated in 1993 as a development and expertise sharing platform between Japan and the African continent, TICAD has become an essential part of Japan’s bid to assert itself in global affairs, mainly through countering the expanding presence of another Asian giant, China, on the continent.
This year’s event comes in the wake of Beijing’s vow to inject a whopping $60 billion in Africa.
While Tokyo’s African presence is not as imposing as Beijing’s or Washington’s, its human resources- directed development cooperation with the continent has lent credence to its impact on the continent over the years.
Among African decision makers, the overriding behind-doors rhetoric is more welcoming of Tokyo than of most development partners. The governing idea is that Japan is “less intrusive” than Western partners and—increasingly— China.
Faced with China’s enormous financial clout, Japan is projecting itself as quality rather than a quantity partner for Africa, the Japan Times reported yesterday on the eve of the conference.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinto has said that, through TICAD, Japan seeks to “launch impactful actions on the continent.” Education, science, technology, and renewable energy are the main domains of Japan’s African presence.
From boycotting to convincing?
The conference opened today, August 28, and is expected to close on August 30.
For all the focus on Japan-Africa development partnership, as the three-day event features debates on a wide range of expertise sharing issues between Japan and the continent, Morocco, one of Japan’s strongest African partners, is bound to focus on the Asian country’s relationship with Polisario, the self-determination-seeking separatist group in Western Sahara.
There have been perceptible efforts from numerous Japanese officials in the months since last year’s diplomatic row to distance the country from the Polisario Front.
The latest in date came on Sunday, August 25, when the chief of the MENA division of the Japanese foreign affairs ministry reaffirmed his country’s “constant and immutable” stance on the territorial conflict as one of not recognizing Western Sahara as a distinct state.
But it was later revealed that Polisario would be in attendance of this year’s TICAD.
In a subsequent, explanatory statement, the Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Taro Kono, said that Polisario’s presence does not alter Japan’s position.
“Even if a group which claims itself as a state which Japan does not recognize was sitting in this room, this fact does not mean that Japan, in any way, implicitly or explicitly recognizes it as a state,” Kono said.
This was by all accounts a move meant to appease and reassure Morocco. But Morocco, either faithful to its recently adopted—and widely reported—“proactive diplomacy,” or just receptive of Japan’s explanations, has so far remained uncharacteristically silent on Polisario’s presence at the event.
Morocco has traditionally protested against Polisario’s attendance at events like TICAD, typically interpreting a formal invitation to the militant group as a tacit stamp of approval on its statehood claims.
But in light of the now prevailing “proactive diplomacy” among Moroccan diplomats, some experts and observers are bound to argue, Rabat may have come to realize that insistently boycotting Polisario lends to the separatist group more credibility and visibility.
Another explanation may be that the recent, worldwide wave of support for its Autonomy Plan might have comforted Morocco in its Western Sahara stance, making the typical, expected media feud with Polisario less and less salient or necessary.
The new Moroccan diplomatic effort, the argument goes, is increasingly shifting the focus towards convincing the international community of the “seriousness,” “pragmatism,” and “credibility” of the Moroccan autonomy proposal, instead of constantly whining about any ceremonial Polisario presence at policy events.
But whether any of all these reasoning reflects the thinking of the drivers of the Moroccan diplomacy will depend on whether Morocco goes through the entire TICAD meeting without reproaching Tokyo for inviting Polisario, or whether the Morocco-Japan relations will undergo no cold moment after this conference.