Thoughts on the Revision of the Development Cooperation Charter  ~“Fluidity and Immutability"~


Hara Shohei Director General Operations Strategy Department


There is a phrase "Fluidity and Immutability" (Fueki-Ryūkō) that Matsuo Bashō (active in the 17th century), the greatest of the haiku poets, is said to have advocated. What Bashō intended was to treasure the eternal truth (immutability or Fueki) of things while incorporating new perspectives (fluidity or Ryūkō) and, eventually, the two are amalgamated into one eternal value.
The year 2015, when the previous Development Cooperation Charter was formulated by the Government of Japan, was the year of international cooperation for global common goals: Agenda 2030 including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Paris Agreement on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were agreed upon later in the year. However nowadays, as the updated "National Security Strategy of Japan " (December 2022) argues, we are in "an era where confrontation and cooperation are intricately intertwined in international relations;" and the world is now facing compound crises.
In the meantime, JICA evolved significantly. In addition to the new vision "Leading the world with trust" (2017), TICAD 7 and 8 (2019 and 22), and the Covid-19 responses (2020 onwards), we have been working on various other initiatives: Support for the Acceptance of Foreign HRs / Multicultural and Inclusive Community in Japan; JICA Development Studies Program; promotion of quality infrastructure; furthering partnership with the private sector through the SDGs Business Supporting Surveys and Private Sector Investment Finance; promotion of Digital Transformation (DX) and other various innovations including collaborations with start-ups, etc. On top of the above, support for Ukraine, and post-earthquake assistance for Türkiye and Syria are among the latest initiatives JICA is proactively involved with.

The "Immutability" and "Fluidity" in the Revised Charter

The latest revision of the Development Cooperation Charter refers to "human security" as " a guiding principle that underlies all of its development cooperation.” Based on this, the Charter goes on to stress the key importance of constructing “strong and resilient countries and communities through ‘investment in people’”, for realising “human security in the new era” facing compound crises, and also highlights the “solidarity of various actors as the pillars of human security in the new era, and (Japan) will conduct development cooperation making human agency a central focus.” As such, the revised Charter incorporates immutable values along with new elements to adapt to the change of the times.
While inheriting "Contributing to peace and prosperity" and "Co-creation of social value through dialogue and corporation with developing countries," the revised Charter states, especially regarding the latter, “variety of actors that each brings its strengths (...) to generate new value through such “co-creation.”” This is in response to a suggestion made in the report by an experts’ advisory panel released prior to the revision. The report suggests that the relationship between Japan and developing countries should be updated from simple 'equal partners,' as referenced in the previous Charter, to a new partnership, i.e., Japan and developing countries create new values through mutual co-creation. This new direction indicates that Japan is shifting to a new phase towards two-way cooperation with developing countries while maintaining the traditional Japanese development cooperation style as the mainstay.
The revised Charter reiterates Japan’s firm commitment to tackling global issues, as stated in the "Realization of peaceful, secure, and stable societies (…)" incorporating the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) Vision, and in the "Leading international efforts to addressing increasingly complex and serious global issues" that includes the acceleration towards the SDGs, "human security" and new challenges. In this connection, one should note the advisory panel's recommendation: "Japan should play a leading role towards the post-SDGs discussions that are about to begin.”
The "’Quality growth’ in the new era" incorporates elements that adapt to the changing times (deteriorating humanitarian situation, debt sustainability issues, supply chain resilience, and new technologies such as DX). Other "Implementation principles for ensuring the appropriateness of development cooperation" largely follow the previous charter.
Thus, I believe this charter revision has incorporated new elements suited to the current situation while maintaining substantial core values.

Accelerating Co-Creation

In order to respond to the complex and intertwined challenges and to incorporate innovation, the revised Charter emphasises "Solidarity to realize co-creation" “to form and utilize development platforms that involve various actors, with developing countries at the core, and to strongly support the solutions created through these platforms by mobilizing diverse resources, including financial ones.” The “various actors” are businesses, civil society, local governments, universities and research institutions, intellectuals, friends of Japan, and Japanese descents.

This is in line with the concept and approach of the "JICA Global Agenda " being promoted by JICA, which is also associated with "strengthen ‘offer-type’ cooperation, which will enable to create and proactively propose attractive menus that leverage Japan’s strengths”, as stated in the revised Charter. Details of the "offer-type" and other institutional improvements in line with the revision of the charter are now under preparation. To this end, I hope to promote initiatives that will lead to long-term bilateral trust and common assets through dialogues with our counterparts in developing countries, rather than simplistic presentation of unilateral ideas from the Japanese side.

A call for wider interest and participation

A series of townhall-type meetings on the Charter were held throughout Japan and a large number of people enthusiastically attended each meeting. Likewise, the Special Committee on Official Development Assistance and Related Matters, the House of Councillors, held multifaceted discussions on Japan’s development cooperation. Some harsh criticisms notwithstanding, I felt so grateful to hear such candid opinions. At the same time, however, I also wished to have much wider participants discuss such issues as the roles that JICA could play to solve various domestic issues, etc. as well.
To my mind, JICA's roles are: 1) to solidify the partnerships between Japan and each country through working hand in hand with developing countries to solve development issues; 2) to increase the momentum of "empathy, cooperation, and collaboration" internationally; 3) and thereby to contribute to strengthening the international standings of Japan. I also believe that our development cooperation is a showcase of Japan to the world as to how it is, and it is a very important initiative for Japan for its present and future that are inseparable from the rest of the world.
This said, JICA cannot achieve all these by itself. In order to get more people with various backgrounds interested in JICA and development cooperation, listening to the opinions for improvements, winning wider support and promoting engagement on various occasions will, I believe, open the door to a better future of Japan and the international community.
To this end, the revision of the Development Cooperation Charter isn’t the end but a starting point. JICA will proactively communicate the charter’s messages domestically and internationally for discussions and engagements. In the process, JICA will collaborate with businesses and other initiatives that are engaging to solve social issues in order to enhance networks and ideas that may go beyond the conventional notion of “aid/development cooperation.” JICA will also transform itself in the new environment. This is the future of JICA: “a JICA that will be chosen by our partners, for a Japan that will be chosen by the world.”

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