11 October 2021

TRENDS Research and Advisory has released the 8th of its ‘Strategic Trends’ series, entitled “Japan’s Policy toward the Middle East: The Search for an Active Role by Balancing National Interests with American Considerations”, which explores the future of Japan’s policy toward the Middle East.

This monograph explains that Japan has historically good relations with the Middle East, within which energy has been, and still is, the most determinant of its policy toward the region. However, a decade ago or so, it started to diversify its regional trade relations beyond oil and energy sources to cover other strategic areas, including advanced sciences such as space science, and security matters.

The monograph explains that Japan is keen on building its relations with the Middle East by asserting its role as a committed partner and neutral and credible mediator in existing regional conflicts. Japan’s public diplomacy has strengthened its image across the Middle East, and the region has generally become the focus of a growing interest within Japan.

According to the 8th issue of “Strategic Trends”, Japan seeks to make use its relations with the Middle East so that it can play a greater political role in the region while relying more on its capabilities in promoting its interests. To this end, Japan is following a path that is more independent from its top ally, the United States, which is consistent with its grand strategy of supporting a multilateral world order and counterweighing China’s influence in the Middle East.

The monograph argues that Japan needs to strike a balance between politics and economics, and between its own interests and those of Washington. In addition, Japan has to maintain its special network of relations with the Middle East. This constitutes a challenge to Tokyo, but could also be a strong incentive for the country to enhance its diplomatic communication and play a more active political role in the region.

The monograph explains that the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign relations, not only in East Asia and Indo-Pacific region, but also in its national security strategy, including its engagement in the Middle East. Although Japan seeks to pursue a policy that is more independent from the United States in general, its relations with Washington remain an important determinant of its foreign policies.

The monograph also shows that Japan has strong relations with the UAE at the economic, trade, political and diplomatic levels. These relations may be the most important in the region. Exchanges of visits between the two countries at the highest level reflects the solidity of these relations and the keenness of the two countries’ leaderships on continuously improving them. Furthermore, Japan is the world’s largest trading partner of the UAE.

In conclusion, the monograph explains that Tokyo is charting its course in the Middle East very carefully by building stronger and diverse relations with the countries of the region to secure its interests in the face of the growing Chinese influence around the world. Japan tries to focus on what it can provide for the region that China cannot, such as space science and advanced technology, among others. Over recent years Japan has sought to reinforce its trade and investment relations with the Middle East through a number of high-level symposiums and events hosted by Tokyo and the countries of the region. There is also a growing interest from Tokyo in diversifying its trade relations with the Middle East in light of the rising presence, in the region, of its East Asian neighbors South Korea and China.