Over the past month, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has visited Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Qatar, and met with the leaders of those countries, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as part of a regional tour focused on security issues. The Middle East and the fight against the Corona pandemic. The visit coincided with the exit of the United States from Afghanistan, in addition to the state of doubts surrounding Washington’s commitment, which lasted for several decades, to the security of the Persian Gulf and its involvement in the geopolitics of the region as a whole.
In Tokyo, less than a year after taking power, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga joins the group of Japanese prime ministers who have resigned. But although Suga’s tenure in power was short and fraught with trouble, his administration continued to lay the strategic foundation laid by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, whose eight years in power saw Japan transform into an important custodian of the liberal international order.
As a force engaged in key regions related to the Middle East, Tokyo has the opportunity to open a strategic dialogue with the region that focuses on issues important for the coming decades, particularly digital transformation and technological competition. Such a dialogue would help the Middle East adapt to the post-Afghanistan era, mitigate the risks of regional instability, and help balance competing interests in the region between the United States and China.
Former Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense, Taro Kono, a candidate to succeed Suga, played an important role in Japanese efforts to ease tensions between the United States and Iran following the killing of General Qassem Soleimani. Another possible successor to Suga is Abe’s long-time foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, who is also a competent person to deal with Middle East issues. Kishida, who recently served as chair of the ruling Democratic Party’s Research Council, played an important role in advancing Tokyo’s behind-the-scenes efforts to protect the nuclear agreement during the years of US President Donald Trump. Even Abe himself has preferred to replace Suga, former Japanese international affairs minister Sanin Takesha, who has little foreign policy experience but could faithfully represent Abe’s security doctrine known as “peaceful pre-emption” in the Middle East.
Japan holds an important advantage as a bridge maker between the parties in the Middle East. Although it has good relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and it was the cornerstone of the wars led by the United States in Korea and Vietnam, Japan played a limited role in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, Japan is one of the few US allies that has emerged from recent decades of interventions in the region with a clean reputation. Japan’s popularity has become recognized in the world as a result of its peace approach after World War II, which proved its goodwill that it would be an honest broker, which distinguished it from the United States in the Middle East.
Japan has long relied on oil from the Middle East. Since the administration of US President Jimmy Carter, Washington has been committed to the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the West and its allies, most importantly Tokyo. But these days, Japanese policymakers must prepare for Washington’s failure to protect its overseas oil corridors, which run some 3,200 miles from the Strait of Hormuz to the Strait of Malacca, near Malaysia. Although the US Navy guarantees movement in the Indian and Pacific oceans, it will not be able to do so in other regions.
In recent years, countries in the region from Oman in the Persian Gulf to Rabat on the Atlantic have faced the new Cold War between the United States and China. The United States remains the main guarantor of the Arab Gulf states, in addition to being an important military partner for North African countries such as Egypt and Morocco. But China has emerged not only as an important oil export destination, but also as the main trading partner for most of the Middle East countries. Events in Afghanistan recently led to renewed questions about spending cuts in the United States in the long run. But it is still not clear whether China is ready to intervene and assume greater responsibility for the security of the Middle East, as Washington has been playing in the Persian Gulf since the 1980s, in proportion to Beijing’s economic share in the region.
Accordingly, there is a pressing need for a new multilateral structure, with external support when necessary. So when Motegi visited the Middle East last month, the Japanese foreign minister urged Iran to ease geopolitical tensions, and emphasized Japan’s support for counter-terrorism efforts. The Baghdad summit, at the end of August, represented early efforts by several regional players, including France, whose president attended the summit, to prepare for a post-Washington Middle East. The Biden administration pledged to leave Iraq at the end of 2021, opening the door for a new force to fill the void.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between Japan, Australia, India, and the United States, which began in 2017, can provide a model for strategic international groupings. To avoid mistakes made during the beginning of this international gathering, which ended up forming the “Quad2” organization, three working groups were formed dedicated to distributing vaccines, mitigating climate change, and focusing on modern technologies.
Perhaps Tokyo contributes in particular to removing tensions from the Middle East through its presence in the group of five rich countries. But the countries of the Middle East sometimes seem to be torn between following the United States or China, although the latter remains the largest trading and investment partner. Here, Japan’s role as a major supporter emerges, as Tokyo, with its advanced industry, provides the solutions that these countries want to obtain. Five mobile operators in the Middle East had requested Japan’s support, which it considered as an incentive for it to provide assistance.
During the next phase of its engagement in the Middle East, Japan appears to have a direct interest in helping the region adapt to changes in the geopolitical landscape. Multilateral working groups, such as those focusing on communication technologies and mobile phones, can facilitate a broad strategic dialogue across the region that harnesses the Middle East’s access to capital, as well as the creative potential of the Indo-Pacific, heralding a new phase of stability and prosperity in the region. .
Muhammad Suleiman ■ Adviser on international politics at the Middle East Institute.
Elliot Silverberg ■ Expert in the US government’s National Security Education Program.
Japan is one of the few US allies that has emerged from recent decades of meddling in the region with a clean reputation.
Taro Kono, a Japanese politician born in January 1963, has held several ministerial positions, most notably a former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was represented in Parliament for the Liberal Democratic Party for six terms. It represents the province of Kanagawa. He was elected for the first time in Parliament as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party in October 1996, and he was still thirty-three years old, and was re-elected after that for six terms. He is considered one of the most likely candidates to succeed the former prime minister.
In 2002 he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary of Public Administration with responsibilities including administrative reform, local government affairs, and e-government. In the last government of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, he served as Deputy Minister of Justice. In 2004 he co-authored economic sanctions amendments to the Foreign Exchange Act and the Port Claus Act, which allows the government to refuse entry to North Korean ships in Japanese ports.
After donating part of his liver to his ailing father, Kono made major changes to the transplant law and secured its passage in 2009. He is a big advocate of the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change. He played a key role in passing many government laws related to climate issues. He expressed his deep concern about nuclear policies since 1997. He is considered a strong critic of the so-called “nuclear fuel cycle”.
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