Japan should play role in ensuring regional stability in Middle East

The situation in the Middle East is becoming unstable. Japan should take an active role in promoting peace and prosperity in the Middle East since it has cultivated friendly relations with Mideast countries and regions.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is currently on a tour of Israel and other areas of the Middle East.

While there have been moves toward improving the relationship between Israel and Arab nations in the Middle East, the rise of the administration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, an anti-American, hard-line conservative, is raising tensions with the United States and other countries.

There are also concerns that Afghanistan might once again become a hotbed of terrorism as the Taliban radical Islamists have taken control of the whole country.

Japan has historically not been involved in Mideast regional conflicts and has built relationships of trust with Middle Eastern countries and regions on its own through investment and economic assistance, among other means. As Japan relies mostly on the Middle East for imports of crude oil, stability in the region is directly linked to the livelihoods of the people in Japan.

The timing of the foreign minister’s visit to the region to directly call for the easing of tensions is of great significance.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a sign that the United States wants to lessen its military involvement in the Middle East. As it is difficult to ask the United States alone to shoulder the burden of maintaining peace as in former times, coordinated efforts involving Japan, European nations and other countries have become indispensable.

Through Motegi’s tour to the Middle East, Japan needs to gather information on what role it can play in the region and rethink its strategy.

In a series of meetings with his counterparts and officials of the countries he is visiting, Motegi has touted Japan’s diplomatic vision of achieving a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” The importance of an open international order based on the rule of law is growing.

Motegi met separately with the Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers and urged them to refrain from taking actions that would heighten tensions. From the standpoint of supporting a “two-state solution” that calls for both sides to coexist, it is crucial for Japan to persistently urge the two sides to build trust through dialogue.

Motegi is scheduled to meet with high-ranking Iranian officials on Sunday. He must strongly urge them to refrain from taking provocative actions and agree to hold talks in order to maintain the nuclear agreement that Iran had reached with Western countries and other major powers.

An oil tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman recently. The attack is suspected to have been carried out by an Iranian-made drone. Iran should try to make efforts to prevent similar incidents from occurring to not allow this drone attack to develop into a major conflict.

Motegi also participated in a Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting held online to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, and they reached consensus on matters such as calling on the Taliban to respect women’s human rights.

Afghanistan must not be allowed to succumb again to undemocratic, oppressive rule. It is important for Japan to cooperate more closely with other relevant countries.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 22, 2021.