Japan International Cooperation Agency
  • 日本語
  • English
  • Français
  • Espanol
  • Home
  • About JICA
  • News & Features
  • Countries & Regions
  • Our Work
  • Publications
  • Investor Relations

TANAKA Akihiko

June 6, 2012

JICA’s New President Gives His First Official Interview Since Assuming Office in April

photoJICA President Akihiko Tanaka

Question: Has it been difficult to make the transition from academia to the presidency of Japan’s development agency?

Answer: For me personally it has been quite smooth. I have worked for many years in international affairs and following the end of the cold war, I wrote several books dealing with overall trends towards globalization, the relative decline of sovereign states and the increasing power of other stakeholders; problems facing some ‘middle income’ countries including the rise of nationalism; and the status of so-called ‘fragile states’ facing or undergoing conflict. These are all problems which JICA confronts daily in its development work. Coming up with solutions will be the difficult part.

Q: Give a couple of practical examples of translating theory into practical solutions.

A: Countries such as Afghanistan and South Sudan are among the ‘fragile states’ I mentioned. JICA is helping to create the foundations of stronger institutions to help them escape the traps of civil war, poverty and unstable governance. Middle income countries also face various ‘traps’ including continuing pockets of poverty and growing economic and social disparities between various segments of society. JICA’s role here is help build sustainable institutions not only in traditional areas such as health and education but also ecologically and environmentally.

Q:JICA is already involved in many of these countries and areas. How do you propose to push the agenda forward?

A: I would like to encourage my staff to develop new innovative approaches based on the broad outlines established by my predecessor, Madame Ogata, including the concept of ‘inclusive and dynamic development’ and an emphasis on ‘human security’. That means not only ensuring state security, which is very important, but also strengthening the capacity and increased participation of communities and individuals in shaping their own future.

Q: What are your immediate priorities?

A: As an academic perhaps I became too bookish. I need to rectify that, to expose myself to the real fields of development assistance and see whether my hypothetical assumptions fit with reality. I need to make a reality check.

Q: Do you foresee any major changes in direction or emphasis for JICA?

A: Our current vision of ‘inclusive and dynamic development’ is the right one so we don't need to change that. Probably what I would like to establish on top of that foundation is a sort of higher architecture of innovative ideas, expanding the use of science and our cumulative experience.

Q: What has been the impact of JICA’s major 2008 reorganization when it integrated with part of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)?

A: For the first time JICA can now offer technical cooperation , grant aid and ODA (Official Development Assistance)/ concessional loans. Previously, looking at it from the outside, there were tendencies for these three different schemes to function separately without much concern for overall effectiveness. The challenge now is to integrate these different approaches creating innovative schemes to achieve the best mix of assistance.

Q: You have already mentioned publicly the need to establish new intellectual frameworks. What do you mean by that?

A: JICA has accumulated decades of field, administrative and intellectual experience. We should exploit this vast ‘knowledge bank’ in helping to shape ‘intellectual frameworks’ at various levels: to guide JICA staff in their work and to influence the development debate at the global level. JICA cannot do everything under the sun and we will not dominate these discussions but we must be very active participants with traditional partners such as the World Bank. What JICA has already done can also be very useful to emerging donor nations such as China, South Korea, Thailand, India and Brazil.

Q: Do you worry that the role of Japan and JICA has been undervalued or misunderstood?

A: Perhaps we Japanese are too accustomed to understatement. But in recent years there has been little academic study of Japan’s ODA. I would like to encourage both Japanese and international researchers to analyze our work more thoroughly and we can then create new theories based on our past experiences and what has worked and what has not worked.

Q: You are interested in the expanded application of science in development issues?

A: This is a very exciting and fascinating area for me, the engagement of academics in various scientific disciplines. The basic working assumption has always been that the developed world has the scientific knowledge and then it is a simple process of scientific transfer. I would like to see scientists from Japan and developing countries working closely together, exchanging ideas and developing appropriate programs based on mutual knowledge. The science and technology research partnership for sustainable development (SATREPS) launched by JICA in 2008 is one of the most promising approaches in this field.

Q: The budget for Japan’s Official Development Assistance has been falling for several years. What is the situation at the beginning of your presidency?

A: I hope that the annual reductions have bottomed out. My understanding is that the public’s view about foreign assistance expressed in opinion polls has gone up slightly, particularly after the march 11, 2011 earthquake when quite a number of Japanese realized you cannot live in isolation. We must take into consideration Japan’s current difficult financial situation but the ‘bottoming out’ process is very significant and I hope the government will now ‘positively’ increase the budget.

Q: Ultimately the Japanese taxpayer will decide the future direction of ODA. How do you propose to convince them that foreign assistance is important?

A: Our regional centers throughout the country will increase their contacts with local communities. Each year we invite some 10,000 trainees from the developing world to Japan and this provides an excellent opportunity for both sides to get to know each other. We have sent more than 40,000 people overseas as JICA volunteers and when they return home they should interact with schools and local communities. Importantly, the over 65s will soon comprise one quarter of the country’s population and they are the most active voters. Unless we can maintain their understanding and support, it will be difficult to persuade our MPs to increase the ODA budget.

Q: What is the significance of the Rio + 20 conference on sustainable development? Will concrete results follow or will it prove simply to be a talking shop?

A: As a specialist in international politics I have no illusions about international conferences. The world remains full of mutually jealous sovereign states but these meetings are still very important. Rio gives JICA a chance to assess our earlier contributions to global sustainability and then to help formulate measures and approaches which the leaders of the world can then utilize going forward. JICA has already done a lot of good things, but frankly we have also been slow in rationalizing our efforts in a globally relevant way and helping to create those necessary intellectual frameworks for the future.

Q: Africa remains the world’s poorest continent but JICA has significantly increased its assistance in recent years. Will this trend continue?

A: I think so though globally our increased help has not been fully recognized. There are ongoing resource limitations but we need to give more importance to grant aid and technical cooperation, particularly in fragile states. At the same time there has been dynamic development in some regions, particularly southern Africa, and we could use more ODA loans for infrastructure development. We should also encourage regional rather than single country approaches where applicable.

Q: China very publicly has increased its activities in Africa. Do you see this as an opportunity or a challenge for JICA’s own role?

A: Bluntly speaking, it is an opportunity. China is still in the process of learning. Africa has more needs than a single country or even groups of countries can satisfy. And so the more donors the better.

Q: Can you foresee JICA working directly with China in Africa or other areas of the world?

A: I hope that will happen. Under Madame Ogata our staff have already established some contacts with the Chinese in Africa. I would like to increase communications there and on other occasions. Chinese aid agencies have already undergone various episodes which may or may not be good for China’s reputation. And frankly Japan has also undergone some good and bad experiences. These are things we can discuss frankly not only with them but also with other emerging partners.

Q: What will be the future role of not only China but other emerging donor countries such as Brazil, India, Thailand?

A: They will not only be key, but without them the world will not be able to achieve sustained economic and social growth. There may be some challenges of coordination, but definitely we need to work very closely with these countries.

Q: Are you an optimist and what would you consider a ‘success’ at the end of your 3 ½ year tenure?

A: I am always cautiously optimistic. Success or failure will be whether I can motivate JICA’s staff to a level of performance at least as high as now, or even to a much higher level. On the ground it will be a great achievement to help the development of the less developed countries in the Mekong region; creating more joint collaborative efforts with African countries; and contributing to development debate by shaping intellectual frameworks.


Copyright © Japan International Cooperation Agency