A Small, Good Thing: Abe’s GCC Tour

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

No news is good news.

Prime Minister Abe has completed his Arab Gulf tour from January 12 to 15, without much surprise or sensation.

Abe’s journey to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman was conducted as solemnly as possible, in accordance with the carefully prepared and well-rehearsed plans.

Abe met with the King Salman at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh and then moved to Al-‘Ula to chat with King’s dearest son the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman under the meticulously crafted tent. Clearly, this was the planned photo opportunity of the tour. He also made a visit to Mada’in Saleh to help promote nascent Saudi tourism sector.

His meeting with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed was more business oriented, coincided with signing ceremony of MOUs of cooperation in the energy sector. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed formally approved and the deployment of Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force’s vessels to the international water off the shore of Yemen and Oman to secure the vital sea lanes connecting the Gulf and Japan.

Every word and move by the Prime Minister during the tour seems to have been scripted and choreographed. Every response from Abe’s counterparts might have been agreed upon beforehand through the back-yard consultations of bureaucrats.

Such a mundane nature of Japanese diplomacy tends to be mocked and derided by the Arab and Middle Eastern friends who are accustomed to the thrill and suspense of great power and regional power politics in the Middle East.

But now, the world is relishing the precious taste of sober diplomacy after the New-Year’s dramatic confrontation between the US and Iran which unfolded at a mesmerizing pace and then quickly dissipated, leaving hundreds of innocent lives as collateral damages.

Only one aberration from Abe’s planned schedule was caused by the passing away of Sultan Qaboos of Oman on January 10, a day before Abe’s departure from Tokyo. When Abe arrived at Musqat on January 13, the new Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Sa‘id has already been named and inaugurated through traditional ceremony of Bai‘ah.

Abe’s visit to Musqat turned into the occasion to offer condolences and show respect to his life and achievement of the late Sultan for his almost 50 years of rule and his unique role of the mediator of the Middle East conflict which Abe seems yearning to replicate for himself. Accidentally, Abe became one of the first foreign heads of government outside the region to meet the new Sultan Haitham who announced his commitment to uphold his predecessor’s diplomatic policy of balance and moderation. Sultan Haitham and his brother As‘ad bin Tariq, Deputy Prime Minister for International Cooperation Affairs, endorsed deployment of Japan’s MSDF vessels and approved the use of the port in his country.

Eventually, everything is back on track as planned and anticipated.

A small, good thing, right now, is the precious luxury of boredom.