Tokyo: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is heading to Africa, keeping up a busy overseas travel schedule designed to boost Japan`s global profile in the face of China`s rise.
Abe departed today and will make a brief visit to the Middle East state of Oman before heading to the Ivory Coast, Mozambique and Ethiopia.
He has travelled more widely than his immediate predecessors in a bid to expand Japan`s diplomatic reach and help Japanese companies win business overseas.
The unofficial backdrop to his whirlwind travel is China`s rise, and the relative decline of a once ascendant Japan during two decades of economic stagnation. Japan is a major aid donor to Africa, but China`s investment and trade has powered Africa`s economic growth in the past decade.
Japan has pledged USD 14 billion in aid over the next five years and billions more in private investment.
Africa`s growth has raised hopes that one of the world`s last major untapped markets is starting to reach its potential. Japanese officials paint the Ivory Coast as the gateway to a West African market of 300 million people.
Japanese business executives will accompany Abe in Africa. The biggest delegation of 29 companies is going to Mozambique, a resource-rich country where Japanese companies are investing in coal and natural gas development.
In Ethiopia, Abe will deliver a major speech on Africa policy at the new headquarters of the African Union, a USD 200 million structure paid for by China.
He is due to return next Wednesday.