Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent visit to three Middle East countries marked a significant step in Japan’s endeavor to diversify its relations with the region beyond ensuring a stable energy supply. As the Middle East intensifies its efforts to broaden its industries and reduce its dependence on oil revenue, Japan seeks to establish a mutually beneficial alliance, strengthening cooperation across various fields, including Japan’s expertise in decarbonization.
Building Strong Partnerships for Economic Development
During a business forum in Abu Dhabi, Prime Minister Kishida expressed his vision, urging the Middle East to harness Japan’s capabilities for its economic growth in the coming decades. The Japanese delegation, which included executives from a diverse range of industries, accompanied Kishida on his tour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar. The delegation comprised not only major energy companies, general trading firms, and financial institutions but also innovative startups. The Middle East holds high expectations for such startups that embrace new challenges, Kishida highlighted during his visit to Saudi Arabia.
A New Era of Collaboration
This visit marked the first instance of an economic mission traveling alongside Prime Minister Kishida since he assumed office in October 2021. At meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Kishida proposed the “global green journey” initiative, aiming to position the Middle East as a hub for clean energy production, including hydrogen and ammonia. The initiative garnered understanding and support from the Saudi and UAE leaders, paving the way for potential investments from the affluent Middle Eastern region and offering Japanese companies significant business opportunities.
Navigating Geopolitical Challenges
Amid concerns over the waning influence of the United States and China’s growing presence in the Middle East, Japan remains vigilant. China’s role in mediating the diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year, as well as its increasing investments and technological transfers to Saudi Arabia, raises questions about its long-term intentions. Analysts suggest that China’s actions may be driven by the desire to secure crude oil supplies and mitigate the potential impact of economic sanctions related to Taiwan. Any restrictions on oil exports from the Middle East to Japan by China could present a substantial challenge.
Japan’s Commitment to a Free and Open International Order
During the summit meetings held throughout the Middle East tour, Prime Minister Kishida emphasized the importance of upholding a free and open international order based on the rule of law. This stance serves as a counterbalance to the assertiveness displayed by China and the military aggression exhibited by Russia in Ukraine. Kishida reiterated this commitment to fundamental principles, underscoring Japan’s dedication to regional stability and cooperation.
Navigating Diplomatic Challenges
While Japan aims to enhance its influence in the Middle East, the country faces diplomatic challenges, particularly regarding Russia. Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic approach of maintaining balanced relations and refraining from joining Western countries in imposing economic sanctions on Russia poses difficulties for Japan to significantly boost its influence in the region through traditional diplomacy.
Looking Ahead: Strengthening Relations for Regional Stability
Amid China’s growing presence in the Middle East, Prime Minister Kishida expressed his commitment to reinforcing Japan’s relations with the region, recognizing the need for enhanced stability. Japan acknowledges that there is more to be done to deepen its engagement with the Middle East, emphasizing the significance of continued collaboration and mutual benefits.
As the geopolitical landscape evolves, Japan remains dedicated to expanding its ties with the Middle East, ensuring stability, and maximizing the potential for economic growth in both regions.