Satoshi Ikeuchi, Religion and Globarl Security, University of Tokyo
Japanese Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu will set off on his trip to the Middle East on Sunday August 15. The tour spans 7 countries and continues through August 24.
His itinerary traversing opposing camps reflects Japan’s careful balancing act in the region. He will visit Israel and later Iran. Egypt and Turkey, as well as Qatar. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Japanese Israeli relations are at all-time high, having witnessed manifold development in the past decade during the former Prime Minister ABE Shinzo, particularly in the skyrocketing investments by Japanese companies in the Israeli high-tech sector.
Abraham Accords signed last September, which dispelled the remnant of the specter of the Arab Boycott once and for all, lifted the last remaining psychological barrier which hindered Japan’s all-out inroads into the Israeli market.
Japan’s ties with Iran are mainly based on its energy dependency in this region, though Japan’s identity as a non-western nation among the western-dominated group of advanced economies gives undertones of sympathy with Iran in Japanese public opinion. Japan has been consistently trying to mediate between the U.S. and Iran, despite Iran’s defiant and non-aligned stance against the West.
Egypt and Turkey, major regional powers having grudging feelings with each other, both have been motivated by Japan’s modernization success and developed amicable relations with Japan.
Japanese investment and technological involvement in the production and transportation of the liquefied natural gas was indispensable in Qatar’s breathtaking rise to the global natural gas giant since the late 1990s.
Palestine issues are still high on Japan’s agenda and official visits to Israel have been carefully matched with visits to Jordan and the Palestine Authority.
Japan’s diplomacy excels in building up those bilateral relationships. Diplomats and specialists in charge of specific countries dedicatee their lives to fostering ties with them. We can expect that the meetings and ceremonies in each country will be conducted solemnly with exquisite preparations in an extremely organized manner.
If diplomacy is a bundle of separate and mutually independent bilateral relations, the world is an ideal place for Japan. The reality is not. Mr. Motegi will be faced with a difficult task of helping reconciliations among Japan’s friends who may have irreconcilable differences against each other.
Multilateral and multilevel networks of alignments and rivalries which take roots in fragmented aspirations and identities are what constitute the Middle Eastern regional international politics. Whether it likes it or not, Japan is part of this complex equation when it throws itself into this regional diplomatic theater.
Japan needs to upgrade its approach to the Middle East from the present one which is heavily bilateral to a more multilateral and regional one.