Japan (GPA) – Japanese Defense Forces landed in South Sudan on Monday in an effort to aid UN peacekeepers and ultimately protect developing infrastructure in a country devastated by civil war. The 350 troops will replace a previous contingent of Japanese troops which did not have the constitutional authority to engage in combat.

Prior to 2015, the anti-war Japanese constitution did not allow for troops to engage in fighting overseas. But last year, lawmakers expanded the constitution to allow for some combat fighting overseas in certain situations. The troops deployed to South Sudan aren’t allowed to use force against an opposing army per se, but rather to protect civilians, UN members, and of course themselves. They will also be guarding UN bases which are reportedly frequent targets for attacks.

So after decades of peace and avoiding war, the obvious questions would of course be “why South Sudan and why now?” The answer is simple: Japanese companies are heavily invested in African development– and China is a major competitor in this specific market. In fact, China has invested billions into South Sudan’s oil production and in 2015 sent 500 troops to protect their investment. In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe pledged 320 million USD to a range of African countries with 25 million USD intended for South Sudan. “The Japanese government has in the past provided much ODA (overseas development assistance) to African countries, it has now been shifted from aid to investment,” said Mina Arai-Ito, head of the Middle East and Africa group for Baker & McKenzie (an investment and legal firm). Most of the Japanese investment comes from the private sector.

Unknown, February 1943. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unknown, February 1943. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, World Ward III isn’t a war of ideologies and land, but rather a war for capital and trade– specifically in developing countries and potential markets. “Engaging with local governments is an essential part of doing business on the continent, but this should not be mistaken for Japan’s government doing deals on behalf of its businesses. While the government is opening doors, it does not sign the contracts, the trading houses are doing the deals themselves, based on their own expertise and experience,” Andrew Mizner of African Law & Business writes.

This year China began building it’s first foreign military base in Djibouti. To which Japan responded by beefing up their own base in Djibouti. So Japan expanding their overseas military– especially elsewhere in Africa– should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention.

This report prepared by Randi Nord for Geopolitics Alert.