TOKYO -- Japan will hold its seventh summit on African development next month amid a proliferation of similar events, as countries compete to build closer ties with a region whose economic and political influence are expected to grow in the coming decades.
The three-day Tokyo International Conference on African Development begins in Yokohama on Aug. 28. About two months later, the first Russia-Africa summit, an event aimed at "expansion of political, economic, technical and cultural cooperation," is slated to take place in the Russian city of Sochi.
Ahead of that gathering, the African Export-Import Bank held its annual general shareholders meeting in Moscow last month, with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev delivering opening remarks.
"Russia and African countries are bound by friendly relations and partnerships that have a solid historical foundation," he said. But "it is much more important to look into the future, forward, to jointly make various plans and to implement them together."
India and the European Union have Africa summits scheduled for 2020, with South Korea following in 2021. China hosted a summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing last September.
Many of the countries holding these summits hope to gain an edge with a region rich in resources such as oil, natural gas and rare-earth metals. The continent also carries the potential to become a massive market, as it is expected to be home to 2.5 billion people in 2050 -- just over a quarter of the projected global population.
Japan has its eye on Africa's political influence as well. The Asian country has long sought to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and Africa's 54 U.N. member countries hold more than one-quarter of the votes.
Russia, meanwhile, reportedly wishes to boost weapons exports. In addition to the economic benefits, involvement in another country's military potentially offers an effective way to exert long-term influence.
Tokyo is particularly concerned about competing with China and that country's financial clout. At the Beijing summit last year, President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion in support between 2019 and 2021. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised half that figure -- $30 billion in public-private funding over three years -- at the last TICAD summit in Kenya in 2016.
But some in Africa complain that the benefits of Chinese investment accrue mainly to Chinese companies, a Japanese government insider said. Tokyo hopes to differentiate itself with an emphasis on quality investment.
At next month's event, Japan plans to put cultivation of skills front and center. It will offer support for vocational training to create local jobs, as well as look to increase the number of African students interning at Japanese companies.
But China also has begun paying attention to quality. Beijing held a meeting with cabinet-level African officials in June to confirm the progress made on last year's agreement, with Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi urging "sustainable" cooperation.
The rise in African summits has brought some complaints from countries in the region. Sending leaders to all these destinations is costly, and paltry offers of support from host nations can leave visiting leaders vulnerable to domestic criticism.
Some host countries have been unable to attract representatives of every African nation, instead settling for a smaller subset of 15 or so.