Saudi-Japanese ties: Lessons from the East

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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In the mid-nineteenth century, Japan was a closed, isolated and simple country. Along with China, it engaged in a war with the West which was more progressive, better armed and was seeking to open new markets.

China yielded and settled with trade, but Japan decided to seek the secret of the invader so it sent student missions to the West. These steps altered the path of the Japanese and turned their country into a huge industrial and modern country.

As for China, it remained a mere market for the West's products, remaining closed and backward for many decades.

This introduction is inspired by the Crown Prince Salman bin Abulaziz's visit to Japan while on an official tour.The prince attended a celebration of one of Tokyo's universities, met with exchange students and talked about Saudi's endeavor to transfer education, experience and techniques.

Out of 140,000 studying across the world, more than 500 female and male students study in Japan after the government sent them as part of a foreign scholarship program.

Exchanging students, values

This is the best project Saudi Arabia can boast about. With this project, the country can change its future for the better. Saudi Arabia is currently one of the richest countries in the world and its financial reserves are more than $600 billion. Despite this huge amount money and its significance for the future, building youth capacity remains more valuable than the state's fiscal and oil reserves.

I visited Japan with Prince Salman in the 1990s. There's no doubt that its scientific base saved it from collapsing during a crisis that lasted for more than a decade and a half. Despite its progress over a century and a half, Japan remained one of the countries that was able to maintain its cultural traditions.

Its people are amazing not on the technical and industrial level but on the level of their lifestyle and philosophy. The collective mind, which the Japanese manage their lives through, is what distinguishes them in their discipline, tolerance and success.

Both the civilizations of Egypt and Japan began around the same time. The Japanese experience did not stumble despite World War II and the resulting destruction.

Resilience through cultural strength

Egypt, a model for Arab countries, failed to move forward and deal with its legacy of defeats. Crises worsened when time passed by without reaching any solutions. For example, Japan's population was 90 million in 1960 while Egypt's was 25 million. Today, Japan's population is 127 million while Egypt's increased to around 90 million. The difference lies in culture.

Saudi Arabia's population is around 30 million and despite that the number of those killed in road accidents is more than 7,000 while in Japan it's less than 5,000. We can conclude the reasons behind the rest of the facts - culture is the major factor in deciding progress in a society.

The Saudi, or the Arab experience, cannot overcome its crisis unless through such civilized efforts.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 25, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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