"JAPAN CLOSE-UP", February 2004, published by PHP
By Masaomi Ise
gCongratulations, China!h is the title of an article in the British magazine, The Economist, which reports the successful launching of a manned Chinese spaceship, the gShenzhou V.h As you might expect, however, the Economist magazine, which is noted for its many wry writings, does not conclude with a simple congratulation. The title is followed by the sentence gBut a man in space must mean it no longer needs foreign aid.h
According to the article, the launch of the manned spaceship cost China more than 2 billion dollars, of which 1.8 billion dollars were covered by foreign aid (much of it from Japan). The article criticizes, gChina is not alone in burning up money on unneeded space ventures -- think of the original Russian space station or Americafs (still grounded) space shuttle. But those two countries at least wasted their own money. China -- is trading in space on the generosity of others.h It also refers to the view of some of Chinafs scientists such as gIf the cash going into manned space flight is well spent, China could be spending a lot more on the search for an AIDS vaccine or on better ways to prevent outbreaks like that of the respiratory disease SARS.h
China uses foreign aid including aid from Japan to improve their living standards, and uses saved money for space development programs. Not a few readers would think that Japan is rather stupid than generous in allowing its foreign aid to be used in this way. Let me add that a considerable portion of the aid from Japan does not reach the hands of the poor, but disappears in the air somewhere. Where and how does it disappear? Here are some examples.
What a Gorgeous Airport!
A tour group of elder Japanese people landed at Beijing Airport. The elder ladies of the group were surprised at the luxury of the airport. gWhat a gorgeous airport! This is almost better than Narita airport.h gAll in all, Chinafs got the future. Young Japanese people will have to go through all sorts of hardships. I feel sorry for them.h
What the old ladies didnft know was that the tax money collected from those poor young Japanese had been spent on that gorgeous Beijing airport. Japan offered a yen loan of up to 270 million US dollars for the construction costs of the Beijing airport. This amount of money actually covered 40% of the entire construction costs. However, this aid has not been appreciated in China nor even known by the average Chinese person.
Beijing was successful in its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, but its infrastructure has been built mostly using aid from Japan. The total amount of aid from Japan during the past 20 years has reached approximately 3.64 billion dollars, for only Beijing. For example, it includes 190 million dollars for the air traffic control system, 790 million dollars for expansion of railways from/to the Beijing metropolitan area, 180 million dollars for the urban subway network, 120 million dollars for the pumped storage power plant in the north of the city, 65 million dollars for the long-distance telephone network, 220 million dollars for the national economic information system, 140 million dollars for development of the water supply system, and so on.
The basic objective of Official Development Assistance (ODA) is gto support the self-help efforts of developing countries by extending cooperation for their human resource development, institution building including development of legal systems, and economic and social infrastructure building, which constitutes the basis for these countriesf development.h I assume that the ODA money should be used for the battle against AIDS or agricultural support in Africa rather than for Beijingfs gorgeous airport or optical fiber telephone network or the national economic information system. It would much better benefit all of humanity and also conform to the original purpose of ODA.
That Will Only Increase the Cost
In October 1989, writer Naoto Aoki visited the construction site of the Japan-China Exchange Center being built. Japan had charge of the design and exterior of the building. China, to be specific the All China Youth Federation, had charge of the interior. When Mr. Aoki interviewed a Japanese engineer, he had this to say, gThings disappear here. I mean construction materials. If we leave them outside like we usually do in Japan, they will be gone by the next morning. Chinese workers take them away. They use the materials for their houses or sell them.h This may be a familiar story, but the problem lies in what happened next. gThe All China Youth Federation strongly demanded that the missing materials be ordered through a specific Japanese trading company. We warned them many times saying, eThat would only increase the cost,f but c.h After all, they had to purchase more materials through the company. As a matter of course, the construction costs became inflated. The reason why the Youth Federation insisted on using a specific company was probably because they expected some kickback.
We Were Completely Cheated!
The Center opened in May 1991. It is a large facility consisting of a hotel, event hall, swimming pool, etc. Mr. Aoki visited the Center in the autumn of 1994, which was only three and a half years after the opening, and was surprised to find some cracks on the external walls. Moreover, the guide plates at the entrance of the Center, as well as the poles at the bus stop, were beginning to rust. The external walls of one of the buildings in the depth of the compound were starting to fall off. Upon making inquiries to several major tour agencies in Japan, he found that none of them recommended this hotel for Japanese tourists.
Mr. Aoki stayed in a room of the hotel. When he drained the water from the bathtub, the water suddenly belched out toward the toilet. He investigated and found that the drainpipe had come off and that the water was leaking out. He later told a Japanese woman who worked as a tenant in the hotel about this. She said, gYou wonft be able to stay in this hotel if things like that upset you.h
After all, most of the guests who stay at the hotel have turned out to be gmainly communist organization members who come to Beijing from the countryside for conferences or other business, and people from Korean.h The Youth Federation took all of the profits gained from the shoddy construction and maintenance. Japan has nothing to do with the administration of the Center. To increase sales, the Federation even accommodated adult-entertainment shops in the building. One Japanese male said in disgust, gI would say we were completely cheated by China.h
They Take Bribes from Japanese Firms Using the Aid from Japan as Bait
There are too many cases to enumerate in which Japanese aid is connected to the vested interests of VIPs of the Chinese government. For example, the Osaka Taxation Bureau imposed a tax penalty on general trading company Itochu in January 2002 because it had given a Chinese VIP a bribe of 3.6 million dollars in order to receive an order for facilities in the construction of the Tai Shan Nuclear Power Plant. The construction was not within the scope of ODA, but it was a target of the low interest loan offered by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. The person who received the bribe was the eldest son of a big-name politician who had once served as Prime Minister of China.
Most aid from Japan is given with no strings attached, that is, untied loans. In such cases, the borrower can freely designate the company to which an order for construction work or facilities is to be issued. This is the reason why bribes from companies wanting to receive an order were sent to this father and son. They took a huge amount of bribes from Japanese firms using the low interest loan from Japan as bait. It was splendid gfamily business.h
Speaking of gfamily business,h another big-name politicianfs family is unbeaten. The husband of the first daughter, the first son, and the second daughter were respectively involved in ODA-related projects such as the nonferrous metal experimental laboratory, rehabilitation center for disabled people, and environmental protection center. The third daughter was the head of the International Friendship Association, which has the biggest voice against Japan throughout China. Actually, four of the five children of the family were connected to ODA. Above and beyond this, I was impressed at the sweet-sounding names of the projects that would have pleased Japanese bureaucrats, such as environment, rehabilitation of disabled people, and friendship.
Chinese People Are Exploited
The high technology of China has been fully exerted not only in the manned spaceship, but also in the above-mentioned genius money stripping system. The Japanese people from whom they have siphoned off tax money are the victims. In a certain sense, the Chinese people are also victims.
Three fourths of ODA are offered in the form of yen loans, which are actually debts that must be paid back no matter how favorably the interest and payment period are set. And yet, those VIPs of the Chinese government took a rake-off, and issued orders to Japanese firms. As a result, facilities that nobody knows whether they are really necessary were built. So, the following arguments are possible: gLet Chinese firms build the needed facilities using their own money; that will benefit China better by far,h or gChinese people are exploited by the VIPs of the Chinese government and Japanese firms.h
In the past, China advanced nuclear weapons development with such determination as geven though we had no spare clothes to wear.h This has continued in the manned space mission. This is essentially the same as North Korea, where its government is determined to develop nuclear missiles even though this will cause millions of its people to die of starvation. The military dictatorship of a country, which does not allow its people to have free elections, can do anything it wants regardless of the will of people.
The aid given to such countries only fattens the dictatorial government. It never leads to true welfare for the people of the country. The donor country could even become the object of resentment. If China wants to gain recognition as a member of the international community, it will soon have to prove that it can stand on its own feet.
This article is adapted from the mail magazine gJapan on the Globeh #316 (October 26, 2003)
Masaomi Ise is editor-in-chief of the magazine.