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Editorial: Japan should continue diplomatic efforts for stability in Middle East

  • January 15, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 7:35 p.m.
  • English Press

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a round of visits to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman in the Middle East.


Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of whose citizens are mostly Sunni Muslims, are in conflict with Iran, whose citizens are mostly Shiite Muslims. As Abe visited Iran last June, his latest round of visits to the Middle East has the aim of trying to keep a diplomatic balance.


While Japan has built a solid alliance with the United States, it is also in a friendly relationship with Iran. In addition to acting as an intermediary between the United States and Iran, it makes sense for Japan to call on relevant countries to engage in level-headed dialogue and aim to stabilize the Middle East.


In response to the deteriorating situation in the region, officials within the government had even considered postponing Abe’s visits to these countries. It can be called appropriate that the round of visits has been carried out as scheduled, partly due to Abe’s determination to do so.


This is Abe’s first visit to Saudi Arabia since 2013. In his talks with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is effectively the leader of the country, Abe noted that any further escalation in the situation needs to be avoided. The crown prince agreed with Abe.


In September last year, two oil-related facilities in Saudi Arabia were attacked with drones. It can be rated highly that in the talks with the crown prince, who is considered a hard-liner on Iran, the need to settle a difficult situation through dialogue has been affirmed.


It is important for Japan to make continuing diplomatic efforts to ease tensions.


One of the main purposes of Abe’s visits was to explain Japan’s dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel to the Middle East. Through a series of talks, Abe won support from these countries.


In order to ensure safe navigation by ships related to Japan in the region, the gathering of information by the MSDF is indispensable. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking part in a U.S.-led maritime security operation. While making efforts to share information with other countries, the MSDF must carry out its mission appropriately.


Abe asked the UAE to cooperate in securing a supply base for the Self-Defense Forces and won that country’s consent. The port of Fujairah in the east of the country is under consideration.


Japan also plans to set up a supply base in Oman. Oman, with territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz, is a geographically important place. Work should be done quickly to create an environment in which the MSDF will be able to operate stably.


The three countries, including Saudi Arabia, are important for Japan’s imports of crude oil. They account for two-thirds of Japan’s total oil imports, when combined. Reinforcing ties with these three countries is directly linked to the national interests of Japan.


Saudi Arabia is promoting reforms to free itself from its dependence on oil, and diversify its industries. During his talks with the crown prince, Abe affirmed that the two countries will deepen cooperation in infrastructure development and in the energy field. With the UAE, Japan also agreed to expand cooperation in an oil stockpiling project.


It is important for the government to advance multifaceted cooperation with these countries.

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