Show Japan’s Presence through Cooperation in Decarbonization

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine destabilizing energy supplies, Middle Eastern oil-producing countries are becoming increasingly important. The Japanese government must strategically build relationships with these countries.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. This was the first visit to the Middle East by a Japanese prime minister in 3½ years, since January 2020.

Japan depends on the Middle East for more than 90% of its crude oil imports. In recent years, in an attempt to diversify its procurement sources, Japan has participated in oil and natural gas development projects in the Russian Far East, but they have stalled since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

To secure stable energy supplies, it is important to deepen exchanges with the Middle East and enhance Japan’s presence in the region.

Kishida met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and expressed his desire to “further develop cooperation for stabilizing the global crude oil market and other various fields including oil and gas, and clean energy.” In response, the crown prince stated that Saudi Arabia will “work for the benefit of both the oil-consuming and oil-producing countries.”

Since last year, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and the OPEC+ group, which consists of the OPEC members plus nonmembers such as Russia, have been cutting down on oil production on the grounds of a slowdown in the global economy. Some believe that the aim is to raise the prices of crude oil.

The surge in energy prices caused by the crisis in Ukraine has dealt a blow to the international community. Oil-producing countries should strive for stable supply.

Kishida expressed his intention to strengthen Japan’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia’s efforts for decarbonization.

Saudi Arabia is promoting industrial diversification in an effort to break away from its dependence on oil. The country also plans to use natural gas to produce hydrogen, ammonia and other next-generation fuels.

Japan is ahead in these decarbonization technologies. The provision of advanced technologies will change the existing relationship between oil-producing and oil-consuming countries to a relationship of mutual support.

The three Middle Eastern countries are experiencing rapid population growth and remarkable economic growth due to an influx of foreigners. The fact that representatives of about 30 Japanese companies accompanied Kishida on his visit to the Middle East may indicate that they are looking to invest in the region. The hope is that the public and private sectors will work together to promote cooperation with these countries.

While the United States is becoming less involved in the Middle East, China and Russia are strengthening their influence in the region. In March this year, China mediated to help normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In his meetings with the leaders of the three countries, Kishida emphasized Japan’s position of respecting an international order based on the rule of law. It is important to share such values with these countries through dialogue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2023)