JAPAN and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia started diplomatic relationship in 1955, and the two countries cerebrated 60 years of anniversary in 2015 with a variety of cultural events and exchanges, said Japanese Ambassador Tsukasa Uemura while stressing the importance of the bilateral relations in an interview with Saudi Gazette.
“The importance of Saudi Arabia to Japan is not limited solely to the petroleum for Saudi Arabia holds a key role for the stability of the region and Islamic world, and has been most reliable strategic partner for us whenever Japan addresses various issues in the region. As Saudi Arabia is a member of G20, this partnership has also covered various global issues, namely management of global trade and financial market.
“No doubt, this relationship has historically underpinned by the intimate friendship of the two monarchial families. For instance three Saudi kings, namely King Faisal, King Abdullah the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman have paid royal visits to Japan.”
The Japanese envoy spoke on a wide range of issues, including the Japan-Saudi Vision 2030, while stressing growing ties between the two nations. Here are the excerpts:
SG: Let’s talk about the recent visit of King Salman to Japan in March 2017. The visit saw the signing of many governmental agreements forefronted by the memorandum of cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Japan on the implementation of the joint ‘Japan-Saudi Vision 2030’. Mr. Ambassador, what are the implications of the launch of ‘Japan-Saudi Vision 2030’, what are its future objectives, and how does it impact on the relations between the two states?
TU: The Japan-Saudi Vision 2030 is a bilateral initiative, which seeks synergy effects of the growth strategies of the two nations, having Saudi Vision 2030 as a beacon of mutual cooperation. This initiative was agreed by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, on his visit to Japan September 2016 with Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan.
A month later, Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry visited the Kingdom and agreed to establish sub-groups represented by high-level experts and officials of both sides with the aim of identifying and promoting projects and initiatives that would most precisely meet the objectives of the Japan-Saudi Vision 2030.
Since then three ministerial-level meetings have been held, and numerous exchanges of sub-group members and private sectors have occurred to materialize the objectives enshrined in Japan-Saudi Vision 2030. The areas of discussion in sub-groups extend from trade, investment opportunities, finance, energy and industry to promotion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), capacity building, culture, sports and education. It should be emphasized that new areas such as entertainment, IoT, AI, robotics are actively discussed under the framework, for the purpose of realizing diversification and vibrant society purported in Saudi Vision 2030.
SG: Cultural exchange between the two states is inevitable on many fronts; how is it possible to deepen this through a cooperation program in cultural exchange within the framework of implementing the ‘Japan-Saudi Vision 2030’?
TU: Japan is invigorating cultural exchanges with Saudi Arabia with the recognition that promotion of culture gains one of main pillars of Saudi Vision 2030. In April last year, our Embassy and Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information invited an orchestra composed of 80 young players from Japan as a part of Japan Week events. The performance of classical music by full-fledged orchestra must be the first such event in Saudi Arabia during decades. It was our surprise and pleasure to see more than 3,000 Saudi audience gave more enthusiastic applause than expected to the performance of young players from Japan. In addition, exchanges in sports have shown remarkable progress. Having 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in sight, we are putting forward elite athlete exchange programs of Judo and Karate, with expectation that more Saudi athletes could compete in the most prestigious stage.
SG: The present geopolitical environment of the Middle East is dictated by political instability and chaos, where stability cannot be viewed in isolation from international and regional coordination. Where do you think Riyadh and Tokyo share the same political stand with respect to the regional crises?
TU: Japan has always paid close attention and has given high priority to our relationship with Middle East, with the conviction that stability of the region has serious influence on the entire world and Japan. As our Prime Minister Abe mentioned the wisdom of Arabic proverb “Khair Al-Umuri Ausatoha” or “the best way is in the middle” in his speech on Middle East policy, Japan recognizes the importance on embracing tolerance and moderation. It is my belief that Saudi Arabia, which has pursued moderate Islam, and Japan share great potential and move in the same direction.
I am also convinced that Japan could act as an honest facilitator of dialogues. I am certain that Japan can play the role within and outside the region to make progress toward achieving regional stability and we are always happy to work together with Saudi Arabia, leader of moderate Islamic nations keeping incessant efforts for reconciliation among the nations and people in the region.
SG: Is there any sort of coordination between Riyadh and Tokyo for securing the global energy corridors, i.e. the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which is the energy vein of the world?
TU: As more than 90% of Japanese oil import comes from the Gulf, and sea route liaising Suez Canal to Indian Ocean is one of the most important commercial lines for vessels to and from Japan, securing maritime safety around Saudi Arabia is mandatory subject to us.
The Middle East is also vital to our Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, which stands on the principles of rule of law and freedom of navigation. Maintaining free and open maritime sphere between Africa and Asia is crucial for stability and prosperity of the region. From this viewpoint, Japan, together with like-minded countries including Saudi Arabia, proactively continues to join multilateral counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
SG: How do you see the situation in Syria? What is the view of Tokyo to the resolution in Syria in the future? How does Japan regard the current situation in Yemen?
TU: Japan is deeply concerned about the situation in Syria. Japan believes that the crisis under way in Syria cannot be ultimately resolved by military actions of any degrees and international community has to keep pursuing political solution for lasting peace. From this viewpoint, the Government of Japan has called on all parties to terminate any military actions to make room for humanitarian assistance and to make utmost effort to put forward the political process led by the United Nations. Japan also has extended assistance to Syrian people which amounted to $1.9 billion since 2012.
When it comes to Yemen, Japan supports the legitimate government of Yemen and strongly condemns the ballistic missile attacks launched by Houthi militias in Yemen targeting several cities in Saudi Arabia, which threatened the safety of civilians. We are sincerely dejected with the miserable situation of Yemeni people. To alleviate sufferings of Yemeni people, Japan has just decided to extend grant aid amounting $39 million. Japan also provides employment opportunities and reintegration of children with their families and societies to be implemented Japanese NGOs and international organizations. The overall amounts of Japanese contributions to Yemen since 2012 have reached $314 million.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.
Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin.
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