INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
Veteran ruling-party politician Amari Akira. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2022

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East

INTERVIEW: LDP heavyweight Amari reaffirms importance of ties with Middle East
  • Amari says Saudi Arabia and UAE are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities”
  • Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE

TOKYO: Veteran ruling-party politician Amari Akira says Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are “two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities.”
Amari is the Honorary Chairman of the Parliamentary Friendship Council and has close ties with the Middle East. He has played a key role in Japan’s energy policy, and he emphasized the importance of those ties.
“Japan imports almost the same amount of oil from Saudi Arabia and the UAE; it’s around 35 percent, and the total from both countries amounts to over 70 percent,” he stated. “They are two irreplaceable countries for Japanese people’s lives and industrial activities. A stable energy supply is the lifeblood of Japan. In that sense, the Middle East is connected to this lifeline.”
Amari recalled chairing an international conference in Saudi Arabia.
“I met with current Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, both in Japan and Saudi Arabia when he was deputy minister of Oil,” he said.
“When I was eating with him, I said: “I heard that the starry sky seen in the desert in Saudi Arabia is very beautiful since the air is so clean. I heard it’s as wonderful as to see the stars falling, so I want to see it someday.”
Minister Abdulaziz replied: ‘The next time you come, I will set up a tent in the desert, so please come and let’s see the starry night sky together.’
“I replied to him that it is a good plan, but I can’t eat sheep’s brains, but Minister Abdulaziz told me not to worry. He said, when he is in Japan, he eats everything, so why not try Saudi food; it would not be good manners not to. Of course, he was joking. Through such casual exchanges, I feel that the Middle East is close to me.”
Amari was a key backroom player behind the political success of Prime Minister Kishida, Secretary General Motegi, Foreign Minister Hayashi and the Secretary General of the Upper House and is keen for them to lead Japan forward.
“What we need to do now is to lead a new team once again to make a Japan with innovative power,” he said. “I am doing university reform, which is the source of basic research. I also created a 10 trillion yen fund to promote university reform. We will also create an area in Tokyo for international start-ups representing Asia.”
Amari also talked about his visit 15 to 17 May to the UAE where he was the special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Japan to officially pay respect to the people of the UAE on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE.
“I was honored to be able to pay my respects to such an important country as a special envoy to the prime minister. President Sheikh Khalifa pushed the UAE forward under the influence of his founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. When Sheikh Khalifa was Crown Prince in 1970, he visited the Osaka Expo, and since then the bond between Japan and the UAE has deepened. Also, UAE is a country with a special relationship that supports Japan’s energy.”


Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
Updated 9 sec ago

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
  • Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year

MUNICH: Japan will host the 2023 Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima on May 19-21, Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio said Tuesday.
Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year. Kishida is a lawmaker elected from a constituency in the western Japan city, hit by a US atomic bomb in August 1945 near the end of World War II.
Toward the Hiroshima summit, “we’ll make sure to deepen discussions on realistic measures toward the achievement of a world without nuclear weapons,” Kishida told a news conference in the German city of Munich after attending a three-day G-7 summit in Schloss Elmau, also Germany.
“We want to show the world a powerful commitment never to repeat the horror of nuclear weapons” at the Hiroshima summit, he stressed.
On domestic issues, Kishida said the government will help lower electricity bills by building a framework effective in easing tight electricity supplies and curbing electricity prices.


First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
Updated 16 min 11 sec ago

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
  • 960 pilgrims out of Sri Lanka’s quota of 1,585 will head to Makkah this year
  • Worshippers must pay travel costs in foreign currency amid worsening economic crisis

COLOMBO: The first group of Sri Lankans departed for Hajj on Tuesday despite earlier plans to forgo the pilgrimage as the country confronts its worst-ever economic crisis.

Last month, Sri Lanka’s umbrella association of pilgrimage organizers said that its members would suspend operations because the cost of sending worshippers to Makkah would be too high for the country to bear.

The island nation is struggling to deal with the worst financial downturn since independence in 1948 and has already defaulted on foreign debt repayments.

But earlier in June, the government announced Muslims would be allowed to perform Hajj this year provided they pay their travel costs in foreign currency.

“We are undergoing a huge economic crisis, still we want to respect the values and sentiments of the Muslims, therefore we allowed them to go even under trying circumstances,” Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake told Arab News. 

“We are confident that their prayers will go a long way in getting out of this crisis.”

One of Islam’s five pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants in 2021, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

This year, after lifting most of its coronavirus curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million domestic and foreign pilgrims.

Sri Lanka, where Muslims make up almost 10 percent of the country’s predominantly Buddhist population of 22 million, has been allocated a quota of 1,585 pilgrims to perform Hajj. But with inflation now running at 40 percent, the cost is too high for many to bear and only about 960 are expected to travel.

The pilgrimage this year costs five times more than in 2019, according to Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, who oversees Hajj logistics at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  

“Although the quota is given, the cost of the pilgrimage this year has multiplied five times more than the cost two years ago, which was only 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($1,387),” he told Arab News. 

Ansar added that most of the pilgrims from Sri Lanka this year are seniors, who fear that next time they will not meet the official 65-year age limit. 

“I was waiting for this opportunity for the past two years,” said Farzan Huzair, who was among the 50 pilgrims departing from Colombo on Tuesday. ”I was also afraid that I won’t be able to perform Hajj after age 65.”  

Huzair told Arab News that he viewed Hajj as “a golden opportunity,” adding: “I collected the money over the years to fulfill my lifelong dream.” 

Rizmi Reyal, who heads the Sri Lanka Hajj Travel Operators Association, said that he will be praying for his country. 

“All praise is due to Allah for the opportunity given for the Lankan pilgrims to perform Hajj this year,” he said.

“I am going for this year’s Hajj with my wife, solely to pray for my country, which is facing a severe economic crisis.”


UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
Updated 28 June 2022

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
  • People traffickers crossing the English Channel face life sentences

LONDON: People smugglers or migrants who pilot boats across the English Channel could get life sentences under new laws introduced on Tuesday as part of a crackdown on attempts to enter Britain illegally.

The updated law, part of the Nationality and Borders Act, will raise the top punishment for people smuggling from 14 years in prison to life and apply the same legal threat to migrants who pilot the boats.

The prison sentence for illegal entry to the UK will also rise from six months to four years, with the announcement coming after the arrival of more than 12,000 people in Britain so far this year, double the rate for the same period in 2021.

Britain also recently announced plans to deport people attempting to cross the Channel without asylum to Rwanda for processing before their claims can be heard in the UK, another policy designed to deter arrivals. 

The new act will create a new asylum system in Britain whereby those who apply and arrive via legal routes receive more rights than those who cross the Channel illegally.


Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
Updated 28 June 2022

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
  • 3,000 participants from around country expected to arrive for meeting
  • Assembly being held after former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile

KABUL: The Afghan government was preparing to host a loya jirga, a grand assembly of scholars and leaders from around the country, authorities said on Tuesday, for what would be the first such meeting since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

The loya jirga is a centuries-old institution, a forum to discuss and reach a consensus on important political issues. It will be held as the Taliban — unacknowledged by foreign governments since they took control of the country — have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is holding a large gathering of scholars based on the hopes and demands of scholars from across the country,” Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson of the Taliban government, told Arab News, adding that the Taliban government was “committed to solving the current issues in light of its facilities and limitations.”

Karimi did not confirm the exact dates of the meeting, but it was likely to begin as soon as Wednesday, according to last week’s announcement by the acting prime minister of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund.

Preparations for loya jirga were underway in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, and the Kabul Polytechnic University, where the gathering will be held, has called off classes until July 2. Loya jirga meetings usually take several days.

The assembly will be held as a number of former administration officials have returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country after security assurances from its new authorities.

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

Afghanistan’s former chief executive and lead peace negotiator between the previous government and the Taliban, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, also returned to the country last week, after being in India since May.

Karimi declined to comment on whether the former officials would take part in the meeting, but said, “there will be influential figures from all provinces.”

Local media reported that around 3,000 participants were expected to arrive for the meeting, as representatives from provinces have already started to depart for Kabul.

From southern Kandahar province, they started their more than 10-hour-long journey on Monday.

Javed Ahmad Tanveer, a Kandahar-based journalist, told Arab News: “One-hundred-and-seven scholars and tribal elders from Kandahar city and districts traveled to Kabul for the planned gathering.”

The meeting will be the first such gathering since the Taliban takeover, but Torek Farhadi, analyst and adviser to the former government, told Arab News that its significance would be symbolic, with no impact on solving the country’s current challenges.

He said: “Afghanistan is facing three problems right now: Monopoly of power, restrictions on women’s rights, and concerns about unequal treatment of minorities.

“An allegiance from 3,000 selected guests by the Taliban in a meeting will not fix any of these problems, nor will it confer any internal or external legitimacy to the Taliban government.”


NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world
Updated 28 June 2022

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world
  • ‘To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defense’
  • Top of the agenda for leaders in meetings is strengthening defenses against Russia and supporting Ukraine

MADRID: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a “fundamental shift” in NATO’s approach to defense, and member states will have to boost their military spending in an increasingly unstable world, the leader of the alliance said Tuesday.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke as US President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders began to arrive in Madrid for a summit that will set the course of the alliance for the coming years. He said the meeting would chart a blueprint for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world.”
“To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defense,” Stoltenberg said. Just nine of NATO’s 30 members meet the organization’s target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Top of the agenda for leaders in meetings Wednesday and Thursday is strengthening defenses against Russia and supporting Ukraine.
Moscow’s invasion on Feb. 24 shattered European security and brought shelling of cities and bloody ground battles back to the continent. NATO, which had begun to turn its focus to terrorism and other non-state threats, has had to confront an adversarial Russia once again.
“Ukraine now faces a brutality which we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Stoltenberg said.
Russia’s invasion has also prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held nonaligned status and apply to join NATO. But they are being blocked by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has insisted that he will only allow the Nordic pair to enter if they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.
Stoltenberg said “we hope to make progress” on the issue in Madrid.
Diplomats and leaders from the three countries have held a flurry of talks in an attempt to break the impasse. The three countries’ leaders are due to meet in Madrid alongside Stoltenberg on Tuesday.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that negotiations with Turkey had “progressed” and that “something positive” might happen in Madrid, but “it can also take longer.”
The Turkish leader showed no sign of backing down.
“We don’t want empty words. We want results,” Erdogan said Tuesday before leaving Ankara for Spain.
Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who is an associate at the Chatham House think tank, said the Madrid meeting, with national leaders present in the media glare, “is the moment of maximum pressure” for compromise.
“It’s either at Madrid or it’s likely to go on for a long while,” he said.
Ending the deadlock over Sweden and Finland would allow NATO leaders to focus on their key issue: an increasingly unpredictable and aggressive Russia.
A Russian missile strike Monday on a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the war’s horrors. Some saw the timing, as Group of Seven leaders met in Germany and just ahead of NATO, as a message from Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is due to address NATO leaders by video on Wednesday, called the strike on the mall a “terrorist” act.
Stoltenberg said Monday that NATO allies will agree at the summit to increase the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. The troops will be based in their home nations, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Beneath the surface, there are tensions within NATO over how the war will end and what, if any, concessions Ukraine should make to end the fighting.
There are also differences on how hard a line to take on China in NATO’s new Strategic Concept — its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals. The last document, published in 2010, didn’t mention China at all.
The new concept is expected to set out NATO’s approach to the growing economic and military reach of China, and the rising importance and power of the Indo-Pacific region. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests.
Some European members are wary of the tough US line on Beijing and don’t want China cast as an opponent alongside Russia.
Stoltenberg said last week that “we don’t regard China as an adversary,” but added that it “poses some challenges to our values, to our interests, to our security.”