‘New chapter’ opens in Saudi-Japan ties



JEDDAH: SIRAJ WAHAB & JASSIM ABUZAID

Published — Thursday 2 May 2013

Last update 8 May 2013 8:24 pm

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says a new chapter is opening up in Japan-Saudi relations. The buyer-seller relationship would be expanded to include cooperation on regional and global political and security matters, he said after his historic meeting with Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, in Jeddah yesterday.
He said the escalating tragedy in Syria and the Iranian nuclear issue were cause for grave concern.
Delivering a keynote address at King Abdulaziz University, he said: “We cannot close our eyes to the tragedy that is unfolding in Syria or the Iranian nuclear issue.”
In a joint communiqué, Japan and Saudi Arabia expressed deep concern at the serious and escalating situation in Syria. They condemned the continuation of grave violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities and said the regime had lost its legitimacy.
On the Palestinian issue, he said Middle Eastern countries have an obligation to exercise their wisdom and powers of influence in the interest of bringing about a two-state solution.
“The entire region from the Middle East to North Africa is at a historic crossroads. That is precisely why efforts must be made to remove destabilizing factors now in play,” Abe said. “Beyond that crossroads, we must turn the region into a stage, an unshakable stage, where people earn hope and enduring growth and enjoy both stability and prosperity.”
Directly addressing the Saudi people, he said: “Let us roll up our sleeves and work together to achieve region-wide stability.”
Abe explained the reason for Japan’s radical shift from what his aides described as energy to synergy.
“Long gone are the days when bilateral relationships were defined by a one-way street with you selling oil on one end and us buying your oil on the other end,” he said.
“Making a leap beyond conventional business boundaries, Japan and the Middle East will make yet another leap beyond our business-centric connections by strengthening our ties in politics as well as in security.”
He announced massive financial assistance to Middle Eastern countries to promote peace in the region.
“My government has decided to provide the region with financial assistance amounting to $ 2.2 billion, aiming at helping you build lasting peace and stability in the region. It is in other words to substantiate our cooperation,” he said.
He praised Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s interfaith initiative.
“I would like to pay from the bottom of my heart my sincerest tribute to the Vienna-based King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue for its contributions to the history of humankind as well as to the history of the world. That is the organization that had its roots in a proposal by King Abdullah himself,” he said.
Both sides stressed the importance of the stability of the oil market for the global economy. The Japanese prime minister expressed appreciation for the balanced oil policy pursued by Saudi Arabia, which was providing a secure and reliable source of hydrocarbons for international markets in general, and to the Japanese market in particular.
Both nations underlined the importance of strengthening educational cooperation between universities and research institutions in their countries and welcomed the increase in the number of Saudi students pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies in Japan, as well as Japanese students wishing to study at Saudi universities.
The two sides stressed the importance of making the region free from all nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Both sides urged Iran to fully implement the relevant UN Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolutions.
Ministerial aides, Yutaka Yokoi and Masaru Sato, told Arab News that one of the major reasons for the strategic shift in Japan’s policies toward Saudi Arabia and the Middle East was the tsunami that wreaked havoc two years ago.
“We appreciate the help from Saudi Arabia during that difficult period, and we are looking for increased energy security. We want to diversify this relationship,” said Sato, director of the international press division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We want to go beyond energy diplomacy. We want our relationship to be all encompassing. Saudi Arabia is a regional power, and we want to synchronize our policies in the region with that of Saudi Arabia.”
He said most of the talks were with Crown Prince Salman, and during one of their meetings, Abe received a call from King Abdullah. “The king warmly welcomed the prime minister and expressed happiness at the new thrust in Japan-Saudi relations,” he said.
Referring to the investment agreement signed between the two countries on Tuesday night, Yokoi said this would inspire confidence among Japanese businesspersons to come to Saudi Arabia. “This agreement gives them the guarantee that their investment is safe,” he said. “I am sure all the top Japanese automakers, including Toyota, will want to come here in a big way and actually set up manufacturing facilities.”

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