Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor: Dynamics, Status Quo and Prospects

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The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor:  Dynamics, Status Quo and Prospects

Nearly three years after its launch, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) has been labeled a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And the press, particularly in India, has been full of it when it proposed. Conversely, the current coverage of the AAGC is tepid. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the dynamics, status quo and the prospect of the AAGC objectively.
The concept of the AAGC first appeared in a joint statement, which issued by Indian Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Japan with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November 2016. In the India-Japan Joint Statement, the two states noted the importance of developing bilateral relations, regional economic ties, connectivity and infrastructure networks with other states. And the prospects of cooperation between India and Japan, states in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and other adjacent regions such as Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka were also discussed. At the 52nd Board of Governors African Development Bank (AfDB) conference, held at Gujarat India in May 2017, the governments of India and Japan jointly released a report entitled the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor: Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development A Vision Document”. This report marked the official launch of the AAGC, which is a joint initiative of India and Japan that aimed at rediscovering ancient sea transport routes and creating new ocean corridors that link Africa with South Asia and Southeast Asia.
The dynamics of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
The current dynamics of the AAGC comes from two aspects: On the one hand, the development of bilateral relations between India and Japan, the strategic alignment between the two states and demands of developing the domestic economy, as well as confronting China’s BRI, have made India and Japan the main leaders of AAGC. The two states expect to form a developing cooperation model of “India-Japan leading, multi-states participation”.
First, relations between India and Japan have become stronger since Modi took office in 2014. India and Japan issued the Tokyo Declaration entitled “Japan-India Special Strategic Global Partnership” in September 2014. At the same time, India PM Modi and Japanese PM Abe exchanged frequent visits, forming a characteristic summit diplomacy between Japan and India. Frequent visits between the two nations also promote the sustainable development of India-Japan relations. In addition, Africa is the “ticket bunker” of the United Nations. Helping Africa is the best way to get support from Africa to achieve a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. These became the political foundation for India and Japan to jointly promote the AAGC.
Second, in the Indo-Pacific region, Modi’s Act East policy for East Asia, Think West strategy and Security and Growth for All in the Region policy (SAGAR), coincide with Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. Promoting the AAGC is the substantive product of the strategic alignment between India and Japan in the Indo-Pacific region.
Third, India, which has a good history and a sound basis for cooperation with Africa, cannot expand its cooperation with Africa because of financial and technical problems. Japan has advanced technology and capital, but lacks market and needs energy. Therefore, the two states have formed complementary advantages in the joint development of cooperation with Africa. To promote domestic economic development has become a real need to promote the AAGC.
Fourth, India and Japan want to create an Indian-Japanese version of the “Belt and Road” initiative to counter China’s BRI and influence in this region. Since BRI has been launched, India has considered the Sino-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project under the BRI to infringe upon its sovereignty and territorial integrity. India has so far refused to join the BRI and wanted to expand regional influence through the AAGC.
On the other hand, states in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa generally have faced problems such as poor infrastructure and weak domestic economic development. And they need a lot of financial and technical support. The vision document of AAGC lays down four important pillars of connectivity and cooperation: development and cooperation projects, quality infrastructure and institutional connectivity, enhancing capacities and skills, people-to-people partnerships, which meet the development needs of these states. Moreover, some states have been trumpeted by the Western media, fearing that BRI is a “debt-trap diplomacy” and will infringe on their national sovereignty. And the AAGC offers an alternative option for these states.
Status Quo and Progress of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
First, in South Asia, Japan is actively involved in India’s industrial corridor and infrastructure projects in the North-East. During Modi’s visit to Japan in 2018, the two states issued a joint statement that they would strengthen cooperation in the construction of roads and bridges between the Ramgarh and Baraiyarhat in Bangladesh, and construction a railway bridge across the Jamuna River. While in Sri Lanka, they will cooperate on liquefied natural gas-related infrastructure projects. Second, in Southeast Asia, India and Japan team up to create the Mekong-India economic corridor, to cooperate on housing, education and electrification projects in Rakhine State. Third, in Africa, India and Japan will cooperate on the Mombasa corridor. Fourth, in the Indian Ocean, India and Japan will cooperate to develop islands and ports. They will also explore potential new shipping routes in the Indian Ocean region. However, apart from Japan’s active participation in the Indian industrial corridor and infrastructure projects in the North-East, much of these cooperation have remained at the consultation and plan stage.
From the implementation of the AAGC, there was only one project under construction in May 2019, which was the port of Colombo Container Terminal. Therefore, the AAGC proposed so far, not yet formed the “India-Japan leading, multi-states participation” model.
Prospects for the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
First, from a strategic perspective, Japan and India have a profound geo-political and geo-economic driving force to push forward the AAGC. And both states are in the period of “strongman politics”, so they have a strong will to push forward foreign strategies. In particular, as China continues to press ahead with BRI, pressure on Japan and India has increased accordingly. Thus, high hopes are placed on the AAGC, which has the potential to become an alternative to the BRI. But in the long term, the “strongman politics” in the short-term is difficult to ensure the two states to promote the long-term AAGC. In addition, India and Japan have different strategic demands for the AAGC for the sake of national interests, which is also the main obstacle to this vision. For example, in October 2018, Japan launched third-party market cooperation with China, selectively participating in China’s BRI.
Second, from the cooperation basis perspective, both India and Japan have the basis and ties for cooperation with Africa. India and Japan can jointly carry out cooperation with Africa on the basis of their respective areas of cooperation and promote the AAGC. However, India and Japan also face the challenge of a lack of cooperation experience. On the one hand, Japan’s experience is largely limited to official development assistance, whereas India has not yet developed such a large and extensive network of cooperation projects; on the other hand, India has a complex internal bureaucracy. Thus, inefficiencies are also affecting cooperation between India and Japan. Besides, India also faces the challenge of insufficient funds and domestic development pressures.
Third, from the cooperation willingness of the states along the route, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa need huge investment and technical support. The AAGC can offer these states an alternative option for cooperation. During the design and plan stage of the AAGC, some states which came from Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa, participated in the discussion and design, showing that the AAGC has a certain realistic foundation. But once the AAGC is labeled as a counterweight to China, states along the route will face a choice of sides and there is no need for states along the route to sacrifice China in exchange for cooperation with India and Japan.
Conclusion
The AAGC is an “India-Japan leading, multi-states participation” developing model, promoted by India and Japan in East Asia, South Asia, and Africa, with the intention of counteracting BRI. From its progress, the initiative itself is “concept-driven”, which means that there is no concrete implementation but it is the policy guide for India and Japan. From its prospects, the development of the AAGC depends on the long-term nature of the strategic alignment between India and Japan, the effectiveness of practical cooperation between the two countries on the basis of their respective advantages and the willingness of the countries along the route.

Lin Youhong, Scholar, Yunnan University, P.R. China; Wang Yuhao, Scholar, Yunnan University, P.R. China; Li Gen, Scholar, Yunnan University, P.R. China

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