JICA Ogata Research Institute

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【JICA-RI Focus Vol. 30】Interview with Deputy Director Naohiro Kitano

January 22, 2015

Interview with Deputy Director Naohiro Kitano

Deputy Director Naohiro Kitano

JICA-RI has been conducting a research project focusing on aid by emerging donors. Deputy Director Naohiro Kitano, who leads the research project “Comparative Study on Development Cooperation Strategy: Focusing on G20 Emerging Economies” talks about the project and the future perspective of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Could you tell us about the background and purpose of the research project focusing on emerging donors?

We have witnessed significant changes in development aid in recent years. In 2011, among the flow of private funds from developed countries to developing countries, foreign direct investment and overseas remittances accounted for 47% and 21% respectively whereas ODA accounted for only 17% (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)). This ODA figure decreased from 28% in 2002. Furthermore, in addition to the “traditional” donors, i.e., OECD DAC member countries, we see new players in ODA. Emerging countries, such as China, now provide ODA to other developing countries. China has been expanding the amount of foreign aid rapidly and is now ranked at sixth after France among DAC member countries according to our estimate. China is also playing a leading role in establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Given these circumstances, it is necessary to analyze closely the aid and its impact by emerging countries and make a comparison with DAC member countries. However, data and information on aid by emerging countries are very limited. For this reason, the project first attempts to understand the facts and actual situation of development aid from those countries.

An example of such efforts is a working paper on China’s foreign aid entitled Estimating China’s Foreign Aid 2001-2013 published in June by our institute. The paper estimates China’s foreign aid in terms comparable with the ODA figures defined by DAC. The paper has received considerable attention in the international community because this kind of information had not been readily available. The research project also shed light on other aspects of emerging donors, such as the support towards democratization by India, Indonesia’s tripartite cooperation, and the generation and transfer of development knowledge among developing countries.

In the course of research activities, we intend to strengthen our partnership with researchers and institutions abroad. For example, a joint seminar is planned with the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)), an institution which has extensive research experience in emerging countries. We hope that more researchers, especially those from developing countries will join us so that JICA-RI can become a global platform for professionals and active discussions on aid.

What role should Japan’s ODA play in the future?

I expect Japan’s ODA to play the role of a “catalyst” for better change. ODA should not be limited to the provision of funding and technology transfers to developing countries, but should play an important role as a catalyst for social transformation, mobilizing the private sector and civil society.

One example of JICA working as a catalyst is the polio eradication project in Pakistan. The project enlisted private funds by using what is referred to as a “loan conversion” mechanism. In this case, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation repays the loan from JICA on behalf of the government of Pakistan if the project is successfully implemented. Another example is the “One Village, One Product” project in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. Craftworks made in Kyrgyz under the project were sold as Christmas gifts by Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd., known for its MUJI brand. The project has brought social changes to the region, such as improvements in the social status of women and their income. A large-scale infrastructure project can also bring about great social change. For example, Bangkok Metro, constructed with financing by JICA’s yen loan, introduced barrier-free and universal designs in the facilities after The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand consulted and shared ideas with groups representing disabled persons at each stage of the project.

Japan has a long history of development. Building on its own experiences, Japan should play a leading role in the international development agenda where we have comparative advantages, such as “universal health coverage (UHC)” or the “dissemination of disaster risk reduction (DRR).” By sharing Japan’s knowhow and knowledge with the world,  both in bilateral and multilateral cooperation, Japan can further enhance its function as a catalyst for better change.

How did you get interested in the development assistance strategies of emerging countries including China?

Caving brought me where I am today. I had been an enthusiastic cave explorer since I was a teenager and had a great interest in many unexplored long and deep limestone caves in China. When I was studying civil engineering as a college student, I decided to study in China, where I had the chance to travel throughout China visiting many limestone caves during the breaks between semesters. This experience of living in a developing country sparked my interest in development cooperation. My Chinese friends, many of whom went to the United States to study, encouraged me in pursing an academic career too. I continued my studies and later received a PhD in city and regional planning in the United States.

I have long been engaged with China directly or indirectly throughout my career. I took charge of many JICA projects in China, and worked at the former Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (OECF) Beijing Office for four and a half years. In terms of research, I had originally worked on China’s urbanization and environmental issues. As China’s foreign aid rapidly increases, I have started to look at China’s foreign aid as a researcher. China’s foreign aid has long been a subject of scrutiny and controversy. But I believe that Japan, China, and other countries should improve the quality of development assistance through friendly competition. We can all learn from each other.


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