Japan allows Islam

I would like to thank you very much for today's invitation.

I was told that the Middle East Research Institute of Japan was founded around the same time as the Liberal Democratic Party. From the days of its founding to its current head, Reijiro Hattori, the personalities who head this institute have always been highly respected. I am convinced that business circles had and continue to have great expectations with regard to this institute.

Today I would like to express myself about what I believe to be our guiding principles in Japan's policy in the Middle East for the months and years to come.


The arc of freedom and prosperity

Exactly three months ago I spoke about the subject of creating an “Arch of Freedom and Prosperity”. On that occasion, I formulated a new principle for Japan's foreign policy.

The design of this arch means the highlighting of universally valid values ​​such as freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law in an area that extends geographically on the outer edge of the Eurasian continent. This approach is based on the experiences we Japanese have made as a result of our own efforts over many years.

I re-emphasized this idea in my speech at the opening of the current session of Parliament and introduced it as a new axis for Japan's foreign policy.

What exactly do we think is important in our life? When we put these values ​​into words, we define ourselves in terms of who we are and what we want to be.

In this way, I believe that creating an arc of freedom and prosperity is an attempt for Japan to define itself.

In some states or regions in the Middle East, the words “freedom and prosperity” may be met with some suspicion. However, I am confident that the way Japan envisions this principle can be accepted by all.

I would like to let the people in the Middle East - and by that I mean the region of the Middle East in the broadest sense, namely from Afghanistan to North Africa - know what exactly Japan regards as irreplaceable. And I want people in the Middle East one day to have the same ideals as we do. This is my hope.

Words of healing to soothe hurt pride

While it is always good to convey straight to others who we are, the basic rule of diplomacy is that you cannot achieve anything in foreign policy without gaining the understanding of the other side.

With that in mind, I would like to imagine for a moment what it would be like if I had been born in the Middle East, accepted Islam as my religion and lived in the region today.

As far as I know the Islamic believers, we can say, for example, that Muslims love their children no less than other people do.

So if I were in their place and saw innocent children being killed by terrorist attacks, it would be us Muslims who would be most outraged and upset about it. Sometimes in our indignation we would raise our voices and say that terrorists are not entitled to call themselves Muslims.

And yet it is a fact that sometimes the teachings of Islam or the Islamic believers in certain cases are depicted in the same colors as terrorists. I would therefore think more than once of wanting to express that we are misunderstood by the rest of the world.

If you look at history, you quickly realize that the Middle East has been a region throughout world history where the cultures of the East and West have fused and refined each other, creating the foundations of modern civilization. It goes without saying, therefore, that the people of the Middle East are extremely proud of this story.

On the other hand, if you look at modernity, it looks like things weren't going so well. In my opinion, the Middle East is characterized by the fact that many people there are frustrated by this development.

Is it not, therefore, that the people of the Middle East seek in their hearts for words that will ease their pain over this wounded pride? I think that the first building block in Japan's foreign policy for the Middle East must be a keen sense of these sensitivities.

Finally, I think it is important to make it clear that we Japanese hate terrorism, but in no way hate Muslims.

The Middle East as the “Ginza 4-chome” of foreign policy: three reasons

After this lengthy introduction, I would now like to come to my real concern.

As someone who is entrusted with increasing the prosperity of Japan for our children and grandchildren, I cannot overestimate the enormous importance of the Middle East for Japan, because this region provides us with such valuable resources.

In drawing up the principles of our policy for the Middle East, I must first of all express my determination to deepen our engagement in this region not only on an economic level, but also on a political level.

I will go into more detail on this later in this talk, but I believe that we must seize every opportunity to significantly increase the number of high-level visits and visits from leaders.

For Japan, Middle Eastern issues are - as someone aptly put it - “compulsory subjects” in the field of foreign policy. If I had to describe this concept in my own words, I would say that in the world of diplomacy, the Middle East is the counterpart to the time-honored "Ginza", that popular shopping street in the heart of Tokyo, which has been the first destination for everyone for over a hundred years who are coming to Tokyo from the countryside for the first time. The Middle East is where others assess our foreign policy capabilities.

Today, let me give you three reasons why it is right to give such high priority to the Middle East.

First reason

The first reason is related to oil deposits.

In 2006, 89.2% of the crude oil imported by Japan came from the Middle East, with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) alone responsible for 76.4% of the total imports.

If you add to these facts the emerging countries China and India, which already today depend on about 40% and 60% respectively on oil imports from the Middle East, then it becomes clear that from the perspective of the Middle East, the oil market for the near future is as will shape an extreme seller market. As an oil consumer, Japan must therefore maintain a clearly visible presence in the Middle East.

However, if we look at the global oil reserves, then in the future not only countries like China and India, but actually the whole world will increasingly depend on the oil-producing countries in the Middle East. The more the world depends on the Middle East for its oil imports, the more important stability in the Middle East will be for the future. Nothing else is clearly possible. That is the first reason I want to give today.

Second reason

The second reason the Middle East is so important has to do with the unexpectedly good prospects that are opening up for the region today.

We usually think that the Middle East is in a state of perpetual chaos. Instead, I would like to share the opinion of Hiromasa Yonekura, President of Sumitomo Chemical Company, Ltd. I would like to point out that Sumitomo Chemical has just entered into a joint venture with Saudi Aramco to build the world's largest integrated refinery and petrochemical complex. He could tell us a completely different story about how appealing it is to be active in this region.

Sumitomo Chemical's Rabigh project in Saudi Arabia is truly gigantic. The total cost will be 1.1 trillion yen. The supply of electricity, steam and drinking water alone requires great efforts, for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. is responsible. As a project in which numerous divisions within the individual corporate groups are involved, this extremely “hot” project, which is currently being tackled in the scorching heat of Saudi Arabia, is such that it will develop into a great success story in a few years' time .

Such large-format projects are by no means unusual in the Gulf region today; Therefore, now is the best time to bring this “all of Japan” foreign policy competence, which also includes the private sector, to bear in the Middle East.

This is another distinct aspect of the Middle East. Supporting Japanese companies as they move to seize this opportunity will have an extremely positive impact on our national interests.

The Middle East at a Crossroads: Stability or Chaos?

Third reason

The third reason I want to give is the most important of all and one that you already know well.

I firmly believe that the Middle East region as a whole has reached an important crossroads. Namely, the question of whether the region is taking the path towards stability or following a spiral that pulls it down into chaos and confusion.

In the past, the individual questions were widely separated from one another. So the subject of peace in the Middle East was an issue in itself; the subject of Iraq was another subject in its own right and the subjects relating to Iran were again more or less separate subjects. However, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the balance of power has shifted, so these issues are now linked by a multitude of mutual effects and interactions.

As a result, at least in certain parts of the Middle East, the situation will increasingly develop in such a way that the future order is difficult to foresee. Then it would be possible for extremist groups that have moved away from the original form of religion to expand their power and add to the confusion.

Building pillars of stability for a less volatile order

I would like to assure you that this is the answer to the question of why it is so important for Japan to expand its political engagement in the Middle East.

By this I mean that it is absolutely necessary to secure and strengthen the stability in the region as much as possible in order to create a calmer and more stable order. We can do this by making full use of Japan's economic, intellectual and foreign policy resources in what I call "all of Japan" engagement.

When I talk about this with the Arabists in my ministry or our experts who speak Persian, Turkish or Hebrew, I want them to be full of anticipation and excitement about what this implies. Namely, that the task we now face is to help create stability in the Middle East region - a task that is truly of great importance in the history of the world.

A corridor for peace and prosperity

Within the tremendous importance of the Middle East peace process, the commitment to continued peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians cannot be overstated.

If the order within the region got mixed up as a result of this question as a seismic center - or, on the contrary, reached a maximum of stability - a multiplying effect would arise that would have implications for the entire region.

There has been new movement in the peace process in the Middle East. A government of national unity is finally taking shape in the Palestinian Territories. I think we need to reinforce this movement by expanding high-level visits between Japan and Israel and Japan and the Palestinian Territories, while also working with the leading states in the region such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The concept of the design of a corridor for peace and prosperity put forward by Japan is therefore of particular importance at this point in time.

Japan calls for the creation of this Corridor for Peace and Stability, which will extend from the area on the west bank of the Jordan River (better known as the "West Bank") across the Jordan River to the Gulf States.

There is a flat strip of land in the West Bank, where Palestinians live, which is unusual for this region. This strip measures a few thousand square kilometers and is about half the size of Tokyo. To give you a brief overview of the Corridor Initiative, this area would be used as a hub for high quality agricultural production.

Moving Forward through Fruits: Trust, Confidence, and Immunity to Terrorism

The establishment of the State of Israel began with the successes in the field of agriculture. And what Israel succeeded in doing, the Palestinians can do well too. The West Bank can produce many more fruits and olives than it does now.

For this to happen, it is essential to achieve regional cooperation on the issue of water. In addition, the end products have to cross the Jordan River in order to get to the Gulf States as the most important consumer in the region.

For this reason, the Palestinians cannot help but seek cooperation with the countries concerned, namely Israel and Jordan, to create such a corridor.

Indeed, this statement contains the main goal of the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity Initiative. Japan in particular would act as a supporter and call on all those involved to do their best. Because of their experience with cooperative ventures and the solid success that these experiences would bring, the people of the region gained the most valuable asset in the Middle East - namely, nothing but trust.

But that's not all. Agricultural development and the success of the agro-industrial centers would not only create jobs for young people in the Palestinian Territories, but would also make them aware of their ability to face challenges. This would give them confidence.

We in Asia have gained that confidence before and have been filled with optimism that our economies will develop successfully. I want people in the Palestinian Territories to feel the same sense of success. In my opinion, there is no better way to develop immunity against terrorism than this. The idea that optimists embrace terrorism with confidence about themselves and their future is utterly absurd. If such people really exist, I would definitely want to see them.

If the West Bank, which has often been synonymous with chaos and tragedy, really turns into a different term for “pillar of stability” and “success story”, we can assume that the resulting multiplying effects will not be anything other than downright positive will have an impact.

Representatives of the Palestinians, Israel and Jordan will meet in Tokyo in mid-March to tackle this initiative. I very much hope that you will keep this important date in mind.

A free trade agreement with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and comments on Turkey

Another important point in relation to the establishment of a pillar of stability in the region is the development of our relations with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).We are currently working on the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the GCC and we are making unprecedented progress in terms of the pace of the negotiations.

The FTA will significantly expand our economic relations with our key trading partners in the Middle East, namely Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries. This expansion will help us ensure a stable supply of oil resources.

With the conclusion of this agreement, there will be more interactions between Japanese companies and the GCC, particularly in the area of ​​direct investment. And when the exchange between our countries increases, a transfer of know-how in the areas of management and business from Japan to the GCC countries will begin.

This will create a positive cycle, which in turn will lead to greater stability in the economies and societies of the GCC countries in the medium and long term. I believe that concluding an FTA with the GCC is very important on this point. In fact, in my opinion, this point also makes our FTA significant in a wider international context.

If we turn our gaze to Turkey, one of the largest countries in the Middle East, then it is essential to build a pillar of stability here too.

In both historical and modern times, Turkey was or is in an important geostrategic position.

The fact that the Turkish language is also understood in Azerbaijan all the way to Kyrgyzstan only underlines that interaction with Turkey is becoming increasingly important today. Turkey is also one of the few countries in the region whose relations with Israel are not affected. It is therefore of great importance in many ways for Turkey to be at the center of regional stability.

At the same time, Turkey has been waiting for many years to be able to join the European Union, and even the negotiations on accession still have a very rocky road ahead of it. I think we must not diminish our expressions of moral support for Turkey. The challenges of modernization and democratization, which the country has already successfully mastered, are those that the Japanese also carry in their hearts. I assure Turkey of my full support and wholeheartedly encourage it to continue its efforts.

Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan

Another question is how we should deal with countries that are already at risk of their order becoming instable. I am thinking of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. None of these countries give cause for optimism.

However, in relation to Iran, for example, the Iranian Foreign Minister and I currently have a relationship in which we can have telephone calls at any time, and I intend to maintain that relationship in order to keep it that way. Japan enjoys a very unusual position within the international community, which allows our country to hold talks in the broadest sense with all states in the entire region of the Middle East. I consider this to be an important asset in Japanese foreign policy.

Foreign policy is an art in its highest perfection - namely the art of persuasion. This year I plan to train our Foreign Ministry staff extremely well in the art of persuasion when dealing with Iran.

I am not going to go into Iraq or Afghanistan today; I would just like to give you three thoughts on the way.

The first is that Japan has gritted its teeth in recent years and has invested in these two countries in a variety of ways - human, material and financial - dealing with economic and political issues as well as national security. In Iraq, employees of my ministry even lost their lives serving the society of that country. After overcoming the tragedy of the loss of our colleagues who participated in these efforts, what would have been the purpose of our many efforts if we withdrew from this country in fear?

I would also like to add that, in hopes of helping reconciliation among the people of Iraq, we happen to be planning a small seminar on national reconciliation here in Japan next March.

The second point I want to remind you today is that, until we are able to end the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will come as no surprise when the inter-religious violence and the terror of the United States continue to exist Extremists spread across the Middle East to various regions in the world. In this sense, this matter is of the utmost importance.

Commitment to ending enmity and building trust

The third consideration that I would like to give you today is one that is always of great importance, namely that the image of us Japanese - whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East - is by no means negative . It may sound a little presumptuous to say this, but it really does seem like it is.

It looks like the Japanese in the Middle East are not being met with negative feelings. Instead, we often hear that the people there see Japan in a positive light, namely as a rare example of a non-Western country that has successfully embarked on the path of modernization without having given up its own traditions.

To give you a different perspective on this point, I would like to cite a columnist in Iraq who wrote the following in a newspaper article: “Japan has always been part of my desires since I was a small child. [...] The Japanese were always on our side here together with UFO Robo Grendizer and Captain Majed. "

You can see that Japanese anime are very popular in this part of the world too. UFO ROBO Grendizer is an anime series about robots by Go Nagai. And Captain Majed is the Arabic name for none other than our anime soccer star Captain Tsubasa.

These two characters are in a class of their own in terms of popularity in Iraq and across the Middle East. But even though there is such fertile soil in this region for Japan, our country has not been particularly successful in growing these fruits. We have to put in a little more effort in the area of ​​public relations.

However, if it is actually true that Japan is fortunate enough to be viewed without particular prejudice by the various countries and groups in this region, then this means that Japan has a unique role to play.

People who have never interacted with each other in their entire lives and may even hate each other are able to discuss issues in a peaceful manner when they come to Japan to do so. This is possible because when someone comes to Japan for a meeting, they are not given any particular label. In other words, Japan has the ability to play an important role in both ending enmity and building trust, and that is indeed a role we should play.

Japan brings together families from Israel and the Palestinian Territories scarred by the effects of terror and gives them the opportunity to share their grief. When I first heard about a number of municipalities in Japan running programs that use these shared feelings to find a path to reconciliation, I was really excited. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will do its utmost to support these efforts.

In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, but also in Japan, there are initiatives to reunite parents who have lost their children or children whose parents or siblings have been killed. We will continue this really heartfelt commitment with all our dedication.

In addition to these projects, we have for some time been bringing together young civil servants, students and youth leaders, and journalists from both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The longer we mediate these contacts, the greater their impact will be.

Japan also promotes intellectual exchange and dialogue forums such as the “Japanese-Arab Dialogue Forum” and the “Dialogue among civilizations between Japan and the Islamic world”. It is my goal that perhaps it will be Japan that distinguishes itself in the thinking of the people of the Middle East by offering people the opportunity to reflect on common issues across the entire region.

Common themes for the Middle East (concluding remarks)

If we now take up the question of what common themes exist for this region, then I think that the answer has already become clear.

I kept this point until the end and would therefore like to emphasize the promotion of human resources in the region.

Together with Jordan and other countries, Japan has long emphasized the great importance of the education and development of human resources in the Middle East.

In Afghanistan, Japan has set up a total of nine vocational training centers to help reintegrate former soldiers into society.

In addition, public and private sector partnerships have spawned projects such as an advanced automotive technology training institute in Saudi Arabia and an improvement in automated technology education in Turkey. The high priority given to vocational training is a seal of approval for Japanese engagement in the Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia, Japan is involved in a program that supports women who are taught the basics of starting a business and who would otherwise often stay at home. Another seal of approval for our efforts is that we are committed to empowering women.

The feudal prince Takeda Shingen, who lived in the 16th century, is said to have said that it is people who erect stone walls and build castles. By that he meant that people are indeed valuable resources. While I'm not Takeda Shingen, I can say that Japan's modern history began with massive investment in its people.

Japan has led the world in government-funded foreign student support and compulsory primary school education.

It is perfectly clear to me that in the case of modern Japan, it was continued investment in human resources that was the foundation of our freedom and prosperity.

While I am committed to the creation of a worldwide arch of freedom and prosperity in the future, I will also make it clear that efforts for this should begin with the development of human resources.

In the Middle East, the great importance of the development of human resources and education has been emphasized more and more in recent years in view of the still prevailing situation. When I talked about common issues for the region before, this is what I meant.

In the first half of the 21st century in particular, there will be a rapid increase in population across the entire Middle East region. Saudi Arabia, for example, will more than double its population between 2002 and 2025 - from 23.5 million to an estimated 48.5 million people. Over the same period, Egypt's population will grow from 73 million to 103 million people. And an increase from 24 million to over 40 million is also expected for Iraq.

The question is, therefore, how we can offer hope for the future to the enormous number of young people who will be born in the next few years and how we can create the jobs they need. Should we be wrong in our approach to this question, then groups of frustrated people could very well emerge on a scale that we have not seen before. This would very likely lead to this region becoming an ideal breeding ground for terrorism.

In light of this, I believe that the Middle East is currently at an important crossroads.

Today I shared with you my views on what Japan should do to help put the Middle East as a whole on the path to greater stability, with a number of specific suggestions.

None of the tasks at hand are easy to solve, but Japan will always take a reliable and solid approach to practical ways of doing it and be hopeful. I would like to close my presentation today.

(c) Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

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