Japan Prime Minister Aims to Stabilize Energy Supply through Middle East Trip

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida waves from a government plane at Haneda Airport in Ota Ward, Tokyo, on Sunday.

JEDDAH — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday began his first trip to the Middle East since assuming office, aiming to pave the way for a stable mid- to long-term energy supply system in Japan amid uncertainty caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In his meetings with the leaders of Middle Eastern countries, Kishida intends to emphasize the importance of cooperation in the field of next-generation energy.

Saudi Arabia, the first country on the prime minister’s itinerary, is the self-appointed leader of the Arab nations and a leading member of OPEC Plus, which consists of member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-member oil-producing nations such as Russia.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the next country that Kishida will visit, together account for about 80% of Japan’s crude oil imports.

Close relations with Middle Eastern countries are a lifeline for Japan, which depends on imports from abroad for much of its energy needs. The Japanese government is therefore focusing on expanding cooperation, using Japan’s advanced technologies, particularly in the area of decarbonization, as a key to strengthening ties with those countries.

As decarbonization becomes a global trend, even Middle Eastern countries are having to diversify their energy dependence beyond oil. Saudi Arabia aims to achieve virtually zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, and the UAE is aiming to do so by 2050.

In his summit meetings with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the prime minister was to propose a new concept of turning the Middle East region into a next-generation energy hub, promising to provide Japanese technologies in areas such as ammonia production and hydrogen transportation.

“It’s important to show how much Japan can contribute to the region in a concrete way with its wisdom and know-how,” said Koichi Nakagawa, chief researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. and an expert on the Middle East.

According to a senior official of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, “Japan hopes to put win-win initiatives into action and further deepen its relations with Middle Eastern countries.”

China has been increasing its involvement in the region, including mediating the normalization of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March.

Kishida said he hopes to use the trip as “an opportunity to confirm cooperation toward international peace and stability.”

With his eye on countering China and Russia, the prime minister intends to appeal directly to the leaders of Middle Eastern countries about the importance of maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order based on the rule of law.