By Chen Yang
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed held talks on January 13, local time, reported Japan’s Jiji Press. The two sides agreed to work together to maintain stability and security of navigation in the Middle East, and had the intention of expanding their cooperation beyond the energy sector. Next Shinzo Abe will visit the UAE and Oman in the hope of mitigating the regional tension through dialogue.
As an important energy supplier, a peaceful and stable Middle East is of great importance for the world, especially for Japan that has a small territory and limited resources. According to the Energy White Paper 2019 published by the Japanese government, 87.3% of its petroleum import comes from the Middle East. Although Japan has tried to diversify its energy import in recent years, it will continue to rely on Middle East’s energy supply in the short term, and the region will remain its main source of petroleum import. Any tiny change in the Middle East will have butterfly effects on Japan that is thousands of miles away. Therefore, Shinzo Abe decided to pay a visit to the Middle East despite the long distance and assigned its Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) to safeguard the security of navigation in sea areas of the region, so as to guarantee stable petroleum supply for Japan. Of course Abe also had a mind to enhance Japan’s influence and shape its major-country image in the region.
Nevertheless, the tension in the Middle East, known as a powder keg in the international community, involves not only the US-Iran conflict and complex regional conflicts, but also more deep-rooted issues such as bullying, military interference and confrontation between different religious factions. They cannot be resolved by Japan, a country out of the region, on its own.
Tokyo has been trying to play the "coordinator" amid the US-Iran strain, but its diplomatic efforts are anything but successful so far. Japan has a diplomatic relation with Iran for more than 90 years and has been America’s ally for more than half a century, which does make it well-positioned to mediate between the two countries. However, Japan didn’t criticize the US when it killed Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of IRGC's al-Quds Forces, or censure Iran after it revenged the US by shooting missiles at its military bases. The silence indicated its awkward position between the two conflicting countries.
Given the sizzling situation in the Middle East, there is very little that Japan can do despite Abe’s ambition to achieve some kind of diplomatic reconciliation, and it’s unlikely that he will be able to convince the concerned parties to change their stances. In fact, the key to resolving the Middle East crisis is respecting the principles and purposes of the UN Charter, adhering to a political resolution based on facts, practicing multilateralism and fostering a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable regional security architecture. In comparison, it’s easy to imagine how difficult it would be to get Washington to change its maximal pressure policy on Iran and give up its unilateral stance.
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on haiwainet.cn, which is the website of Overseas Edition of the People's Daily. The article is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.