Training and education in international
Japan, Palestine and the Middle East (1999)
Japanese foreign policy towards the Middle East shows a slow but incremental change over the years, with the most significant political shift following the Desert Storm Operation of 1991. Although change of policy is usually related to new events or circumstances, the new Japanese approach towards the Middle East should be regarded as a continuation of several facts within the new internal and external political frameworks. The continued Japanese dependency on the Middle East for its oil crude imports and the extreme interdependence between its market and those of the Middle East, combined with certain new internal (changes in Japanese politics) and external (structural systemic changes) circumstances led to a ‘new approach’ in Japanese foreign policy. This new approach to the Middle East, including Israel, is manifested mainly in Japan’s participation in the peace process as a co-organizer. In spite of this high political profile, which is now higher than at any time in the past, the Middle East is still relegated to secondary importance within Japanese foreign policy. However, one cannot dismiss or underestimate the real changes that are taking place.
Three principal elements are responsible for Japan’s new political approach and attitude towards the region: Japanese oil and commercial interests in the region, domestic changes in Japan, and the new international situation following the end of the Cold War.
Oil and Commercial Interests
Since the end of World War II, Japanese dependency on crude oil as its main energy source has been enormous. In 1973, the year of the first oil crisis, crude oil and petroleum products accounted for 77.4 percent of the total energy consumption. In 1990, they represented over half the energy needs, i.e., 58.3 percent, a figure that is expected to drop to 47.7 percent by 2010. In spite of the gradual decline since the 1970s, crude oil accounts for a large portion of the total energy consumption in Japan. In addition, Japan is totally dependent upon foreign sources for its oil needs; currently it imports 99 percent of its oil. In 1995, the Middle East accounted for about 78.6 percent of its total oil imports, thereby underlining the region’s vital importance to Japan.
The emergence of regional and international circumstances in the early 1980s, such as structural changes in the international oil market, the fall and near collapse of oil prices since 1986, economic difficulties within major oil producing countries, and Japanese reduced oil vulnerability, created a new more balanced mutual dependency relationship between Japan and the oil-producing countries in the region. Although Japan’s dependency upon Middle East oil has been declining for the last 15 years, ensuring a cheap and stable oil supply has remained one of the most important goals of Japanese foreign policy.
Likewise, Japanese exports to the Middle East, although not accounting for a significant segment of total
Japanese exports, are still important with regard to reducing Japan’s trade
deficit with the area. Bilateral trade exports and
imports for the fiscal year 1982 between
Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), each one respectively,
emphasizes this argument.
Although 1982 is regarded as one of the high trade deficit years of 1973-1993, at the same time this year accounts for the highest share of exports to the Middle East (12.2 percent) in total Japanese exports in this period. As such, political and economic stability in the Middle East continues to be crucial for Japan. From the beginning, Japan has been actively involved in the Middle East Peace Process by providing political as well as economic support, but one could question the timing of the changes. Part of the answer can be found in the emergence of new political changes inside Japan and systemic changes in the international arena.
2. Domestic Political Changes
One-party dominance ended in 1993 when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan since 1955, lost its hegemony. The demise of a strong central power led to political fluidity manifested by weak governments and the strengthening of the national bureaucracy. On the other hand, this situation facilitated the emergence of internal debates concerning the need for rewards and recognition of Japanese contributions to the Middle East. As Akifumi Ikeda argued, pressure was put on Japanese policy makers to “Seek a say for Japan’s pay.” “Since we had to pay a good part of the bill for the Gulf War, why did we not get the thanks and respect that we deserved?”Such open debates became possible largely due to the absence of the traditional ideological opposition, the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). In June 1994, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the new name for the JSP, joined the LDP Party and formed a new government in which Tomiichi Muruyama, President of the SDP served as prime minister. This new political alignment led to the SDP renouncing its erstwhile ideological premises. Muruyama’s endorsement of a conservative status quo position raised the question concerning the distinctiveness of the left-wing socialists from the LDP. The SDP’s acceptance of the Japan-US Security Treaty and its recognition of the formal status of the defense forces and their activities in international peace-keeping operations (PKO), led to Japanese political participation abroad. The dispatch of Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel to the Golan Heights and other trouble spots become easier thanks to the demise of vociferous internal opposition. Coalition changes in January 1996 have been almost irrelevant to this present situation because of the continuation of the same parties in the coalition. Likewise, the October 1996 general election renewed the LDP domination in the new Diet (parliament).
3. The International Arena
The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union helped alleviate the traditional Japanese dilemma regards the Middle East. As Michael Yoshitsu argued, in the past, Japan had to choose between the need to accommodate the political demands of key oil-producing countries in the Middle East in order to secure energy requirements or to follow American policy in the Middle East. In most cases, those two positions were contradictory. The timing of the Middle East Peace Process, which began within a new systemic order, enabled Japan to commit itself politically in the region without paying a high price. In other words, without risking its bilateral relations with the United States, Japan is able to secure its oil supplies from the region. Japan’s willingness to adopt an independent political stand in the region is free of potential recriminations on the part of the parties involved. As Yohei Kono, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs remarked in January 1995:
“The end of the Cold War has enabled Japan to expand its foreign policy options. No longer will Japan make foreign policy decisions based merely on its identity as a ‘member of the West’. To make the right decisions on foreign policy issues, Japan needs to firmly establish values and principles in assessing its own national interest. Such values and principles need to be cultivated by the Japanese themselves.”
The end of the Cold War created a whole range of new political opportunities, mainly with regard to regional balances of power. There no longer being a superpower struggle, which in the past inevitably led to local countries playing a zero-sum-game of aligning with the United States or the Soviet Union, not only the United States, a temporary exclusive superpower, but different regional powers such as China and Japan had to readjust their polices.
Asia as a sub-system is not an exception to this emerging political realignment. Regional competition and rivalry between China and Japan for leadership status in Asia is leading Japan to seek international recognition. This can be seen by the loud Japanese demand that it be allowed to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. In the words of Kono:
“Japan should become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, in order to solidify global cooperation as a major pillar of Japan’s foreign policy. The United Nations Security Council is the only organization that can make decisions with binding force. Further, in the maintenance of international order, it is not the overwhelming military might of some countries that is playing a major role, but concerted international action towards such destabilizing factors. Therefore, it is inappropriate that a country like Japan, which is playing a prominent role in such international cooperation, is not permanently engaged in the United Nations Security Council.”
In this context, Japan’s participation in the Middle East Peace Process is an extremely effective tool for accomplishing this goal. Prime Minister Muruyama’s visit to the region in September 1995 was seen, in some Japanese quarters, as a tour to gain the approval or support for the Japanese bid for a Security Council position. The question remains to what extent could the competition between Japan and China for a leadership role affect Japanese political attitudes towards the Middle East in general and towards Israel in particular?
Since the late 1980s, Japan has followed ‘a new approach’
towards the region and its relations, especially with the oil-rich Persian Gulf
states, have moved from unilateral dependency to a more balanced mutual
dependency relationship. A set of domestic and regional factors facilitated this
shift. Inside Japan there was a significant improvement in its vulnerability
with regard to oil imports. As William Hogan pointed out, oil imports have two
distinct consequences: dependency and vulnerability. Since dependency is not
the same as vulnerability, reduced dependence contributes to oil security only
by reducing the cost of interruptions or by creating excess capacity that could
reduce the effective size of a given interruption.
Although Japan did not succeed in reducing its dependency on oil imports, it went a long way toward reducing its vulnerability. This reduced vulnerability became a reality because of internal legislation that permitted and ensured efficient oil consumption, which included a mix of fiscal, regulatory and voluntary measures. The Petroleum Supply and Demand Adjustment Law, for example, enables the government to implement compulsory demand restraint measures such as consumption restrictions on large consumers, restrictions on gasoline supplies and the rationing and allocation of petroleum supplies. Second, the stockpiling of petroleum reserves improved Japan’s ability to cope with potential shortfalls. For instance, The Petroleum Stockholding Law (1978) obliges major oil refineries, oil marketers, oil importers and LPG importers to maintain emergency stocks equivalent to 70 days of the previous year’s domestic consumption. Meanwhile, The Petroleum Supply and Demand Adjustment Law gives the power to the government (Ministry of International Trade and Industry, MITI) to order stockdraw by companies in a declared emergency and/or under the International Energy Program triggered crisis.
The battle to moderate oil prices and competition between consumers during scarcity situations, real or fabricated, become easier in the presence of stockpiles. Stockpiling strategy is seen not just as a solution for crisis situations but rather as a deterrence measure to signal to the oil producing countries that political blackmailing of the consumers by creating artificial scarcity will be very costly for all the parties involved. During the 1991 Gulf War, the IEA-coordinated Energy Contingency Plan showed its ability to respond to a potential oil crisis. This was possible partly because the IEA members, including Japan, lowered stockholding obligations for compulsory stocks held by companies by four days of consumption, to meet the IEA commitment. This sort of action was intended to glut oil markets in case of crisis and sub-crisis situations to avoid price rises, even in the absence of an increase in demand.
In addition, since the early 1980s there has been a continuous decrease in the share of oil in total Japanese energy consumption. This is related partly to the development of new alternative energy sources such as nuclear, natural gas liquids (NGL), geothermal energy etc. This relative change can be seen in Table 1.
When comparing the share of oil and nuclear energy in the total energy consumption, it is essential to underscore two trends. One, there is an adverse correlation between the consumption of oil and nuclear energy. While there is a continuous decrease in the former, the latter is increasing considerably. Second, there is an impressive shift towards nuclear energy consumption, which by 2000 is expected to grow more than 20 times in comparison to 1973, while the share of oil is expected to fall by a third.
Furthermore, the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries)
and oil producing Persian Gulf states are also undergoing radical changes. Close
to 70 percent of Japanese crude oil imports come from the six Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) countries, namely, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia
and the UAE.
However, since the late 1980s two distinct
factors have limited this Japanese
dependency: one, the drastic decline in oil prices since the beginning of the
1980s and the petrodollar bubble and explosion brought profound financial
difficulties to the Gulf countries, leading to high budget deficits; and two,
the oil producing countries are highly dependent on exports as their primary
source of revenue.
The Arab oil producing countries ‘cannot drink their own oil’ and hence
they are very interested in sustaining a high rate of oil exports to consumer
countries, especially to countries such as Japan, which need huge quantities
of oil over undetermined periods of time. As Elihayu Kanovsky pointed out,
“There has, indeed, been an oil shock since 1982, but for the oil-exporting
countries, not the oil importers.”
Beginning from the early 1980s
“sellers do not have the power to raise prices because they
‘need’ more money; and prices are determined by total supply and demand
forces. Even a monopolist has limitations
with respect to price setting, and OPEC is not a monopoly.”
These two developments led to a more balanced relationship between Japan and the GCC countries than the one that had existed in the past. They also enabled Japan to reorient its policy towards Israel and the peace process without exposing itself to any significant political risk or cost.
The Japanese-Israeli relations can be classified according to four stages. The first stage (1952-1972) was largely symbolic. Though there were diplomatic relations between the two, with Israel opening a mission in Tokyo in 1952, the relationship was devoid of any real political content and there was a lack of cultural understanding between the countries. The second stage (1973-1979) largely coincided with the first and second oil shocks, which raised a whole range of new negative attitudes in Japan towards Israel. Japan’s interest in Middle East oil imports, together with Arab political demands, compelled it to comply with the Arab economic boycott against Israel, even though there was no Japanese commitment to breaking diplomatic relations with Israel as demanded by the Arabs. During the third phase that extended until the Kuwait crisis, there were certain improvements in the relationship between the two, with Japan remaining very committed to the Arab boycott. According to Willy Stern “Compliance with the boycott is not only a result of Japan’s dependence on oil.” He argued that the Arab markets for Japanese consumer goods and the Japanese unfamiliarity with the actual operations of the boycott also contributed to Japan’s compliance with the Arab boycott against Israel. In spite of the boycotts, the trade volume between Japan and Israel increased by more than 50 percent in 1986, which was partly due to the Japanese perception of the importance of the Jewish lobby in the United States and its possible importance for Japanese relations with Washington. Moreover, Japan became more aware of the Arab inability to punish it for its non-compliance with boycott demands.
The fourth and current stage began
with the 1991 Desert Storm Operation. Two principal factors are seen to
be responsible for Japan’s new approach towards Israel. One, the Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait enabled Tokyo to recognize the disunity inside the Arab World. The
Desert Storm Operation was unique in the sense that the Arab countries went
to war between themselves under the political and strategic leadership of an
external power, namely the United States. Japan began to realize that the
Arab-Israeli conflict is not the only factor that endangers stability in the
Middle East. In addition, the Israeli behavior during and after the crisis and
its avoidance of any military response against Iraq during the war were highly appreciated
by Japanese policy makers and by the Japanese media.
Instead of “a country of desert and war”
for a while Israel became ‘a
victim’ of the inter-Arab conflict. Second, the Middle East Peace Process,
which began in the autumn of 1991 or a few
months after Desert Storm, entered a new phase with the signing in
September 1993 of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO). This mutual recognition enabled Japan to involve itself
in the peace process and contributed to the intensification
of political contacts between Israel and Japan.
Additional economic and political factors led to an improvement in the relations between the two countries. Growing high-level political contacts opened a new bilateral dialogue that included Japan’s declaration that it would rethink its policy concerning the Arab boycott (agreed during Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s visit in December 1994), the signing of a scientific cooperation agreement and the opening of the Israeli Stock market to Japanese investment. In April 1994, both countries signed an agreement on double taxation, and they are currently negotiating a civil aviation agreement. The security cooperation between the two countries took a significant turn as a result of Japan’s participation in the peace process and its dispatch of SDF personnel to the Golan Heights in February 1996 within the framework of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
In spite of the prolonged recession in Japan, the economic dialogue between the countries has improved since 1993.Japanese participation in the peace process coincided with the willingness of international companies to participate in the execution of different projects for the development of regional infrastructure. The National Agency for Science and Technology of MITI delegation to Israel, the Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) delegation’s visit in April 1993 as well as the political exchanges between deputy Foreign Minister of MITI Hatakeyama and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in November 1992 strengthened growing economic contacts. However, 1995 can be regarded as a turning point in the commercial and economic relations between the two.
Israeli exports to Japan burgeoned in 1995, having increased by 33 percent over 1994 and reached US$1.2 billion; most of the increase was in the hi-tech sector. The export to Japan of machinery and tools increased by an impressive 42 percent amounting to US$172 million and electronic equipment practically doubled to US$67 million.
Prime Minister Muruyama’s visit to Israel in September 1995 led to an agreement to open a representative office of JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) in Israel by 1997. This move is seen by the Israeli economic sector as having the potential to encourage large Japanese trading companies to enter the Israeli market. The visit of Foreign Minister David Levy to Tokyo in late February 1997 marked the first official contact between the two countries since the establishment of the new Israeli government, led by Benyamin Netanyahu.
To what extent could a deadlock in the peace process affect the recent achievements in Japanese-Israeli relations? Japanese disappointments regarding recent political developments were explicit as well as public. On 26 February 1997, Ken Shimanouchi, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, outlined the Japanese reaction to the deadlock in the peace process as follows:
“The decision made by the Government of Israel regarding the construction of housing at Har Homa in eastern Jerusalem is regrettable. The Government of Japan has repeatedly expressed its position concerning the need for both parties to the peace process to refrain from any action, such as the expansion of settlements, which would prejudice the outcome of the final status negotiations. Japan will continue to take part in the international effort to underpin the peace process by taking every opportunity to talk with the parties concerned, and by extending assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
Against this background, the Japanese Government decided to send Deputy Foreign Minister Shunji Yanai to the region to play a role, albeit modest, in helping to put the process back on track. During his visit to Israel on 3 April he reiterated Japanese concern over “the current difficulties and rising tensions between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Israeli decision to go ahead with the Har Homa Housing project.”
Although some disagreements have arisen recently between the two countries, such as those pertaining to the civil aviation agreement, they can hardly be linked to the deadlock in the peace process. This does not mean, however, that potential damage to bilateral relations is no longer present. On the contrary, there are several potential sources of instability. There is still profound reluctance within the Japanese economic community to invest in the Israeli market because of the possible renewal of the Arab boycott. This psychological fear was strengthened as a result of the political changes in Israel following the defeat of the Labor Party in June 1996. The continuing deterioration of the peace process is leading to the resurgence of Arab rhetorical claims against Israel. For example, in April 1997, the Arab Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Cairo recommended that the Arab states should cease normalizing relations with Israel and restore the economic boycott. Such developments could have harmful effects upon the newly emerging Israeli-Japanese economic cooperation.
In this regard it is important to note that as in the past, the Japanese Government still suggests that although the MITI has a powerful influence over Japanese companies, the latter are able to make independent decisions concerning whether they are willing to take risks when dealing with Israel. In other words, it is up to the companies concerned to respond to Arab boycott demands. This formal position is rather questionable because trade relations, including private ones, between Japan and any foreign country, need tacit government approval. A key example is the JETRO, a nonprofit government-related organization that promotes trade and economic relations between Japan and other nations. Since JETRO had not received formal blessing until 1997, there was no direct private Japanese investment in Israel. However potential damage due to the deadlock in the peace process will not appear as Japanese compliance with a ‘new’ Arab boycott of Israel but rather as a reluctance on the part of Japanese private companies to invest in Israel, a country that is still regarded as belonging to a region that lacks political and economic stability. As a result, the future development of Japanese-Israeli relations largely depends on the Japanese evaluation of the importance of its continued participation in the peace process as a means of promoting the Japanese international position and its recognition that cooperative relations with Israel could enhance its bilateral relations with the United States.
An important if not crucial expression of the new Japanese attitude towards the Middle East can be found in Japan’s participation in the peace process. Since its inauguration in Madrid in October 1991, Japan has been trying to consolidate peace in the Middle East. Its efforts include providing support to the parties involved, as well as playing a major role - along with the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries - in creating the frameworks for regional cooperation on the multilateral track of the Middle East Peace Process and active participation in regional economic summits and other venues. Japanese policy towards the peace process is guided by five basic principles:
1. Political support to the process:
Japan urges the leaders of Middle East countries to negotiate, recognizing that the most important element of the peace process is bilateral negotiations among the parties involved. Constant declarations by the Foreign Ministry on the need to maintain and advance the negotiations between the different parties are an integral part of the Japanese position towards the Middle East.
2. Japanese participation in the multilateral negotiations and working groups:
Since the Moscow conference in January 1992, Japan has been taking part in four of the five working groups as a co-organizer country (the exception being the working group that deals with regional security). Besides its active contribution in the field of environment and tourism, Japan presides over the Environment Working Group (EWG) and serves as deputy in the Regional Economic Development Working Group (REDWG), Water Resources Working Group (WRWG) and the Refugee Working Group. As pointed out by Prime Minister Tomiichi Muruyama during his Middle East visit,
“In multilateral negotiations, which complement bilateral negotiations, Japan wishes to play a part in building that foundation. In the light of this thinking, Japan proposed to draft an environmental code of conduct, which was adopted as ‘The Bahrain Environmental Code of Conduct for the Middle East’ at the Environmental Working Group meeting in Autumn 1994... Furthermore, in the Tourism Workshop of the Working Group on Regional Economic Development, Japan intends to continue consultations with the regional parties with the view to establishing a regional tourism association, which has been considered in the workshop under the chairmanship of Japan.”
Some specific examples of Japan’s contribution to the multilateral negotiations and working groups include:
· Upper Gulf of Aqaba Oil Spill Contingency Project (EWG)
· Project to combat desertification (EWG)
· Conference and symposium on the promotion of tourism in the Middle East (Tourism Workshop of REDWG)
· Support for the establishment of the Middle East Desalination Research Center (WRWG)
3. Economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA):
Japan has been one of the largest financial contributors to the PA. In 1993, it announced that it was going to give a US$200 million aid-package to the Palestinians during 1994-95. In 1996, Japan was the second largest aid donor after the United Sates. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ken Shimanouchi stated,
“The Government of Japan has decided to extend an emergency grant-in-aid totaling US$11 million to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Japan-Palestinian Development Fund to assist the Palestinians who are now facing difficulties such as rising unemployment. The aid will be used to finance projects in the area of employment creation in Hebron, Bethlehem and Gaza. Japan’s cumulative aid to the Palestinians since 1993 now stands at US$270 million.”
Japan also accepted Palestinian trainees and helped them to develop administrative skills and human resources in fields such as environment and education while the Japanese joined the international monitors that oversaw the January 1996 Palestinian Council elections. Furthermore, at the ministerial conference for the support of the Palestinians held in the same month, Japan pledged more than US$56 million by the end of March 1997.
4. Economic assistance to the
Arab parties in the Middle East Peace Process:
Japan places a high priority on economic assistance to the Arab countries of the area (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) to underpin the Middle East Peace Process.
· Egypt: Egypt receives the greater part of the Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the Middle East, approximately US$79 million in 1994. Technical cooperation involved the Cairo University Pediatric Hospital and the building of a new bridge over the Suez Canal. Japan is Egypt’s principal donor, providing some US$34 million grants in fiscal 1995.
· Jordan: Japan is Jordan’s principal donor and provided around US$34 million in grants in 1995. In 1994, it granted US$124 million as loans for the expansion program at the Aqaba thermal power plant and the Energy Sector Adjustment Program. It granted a US$215 million loan to stabilize the Jordanian currency and another US$106 million loan to implement the second stage of the Aqaba thermal power plant. Technical cooperation takes place in fields such as health, communications (like the reconstruction of the Allenby and Hussein bridges) and agriculture. Also implemented are third-country training programs for Palestinians in the electric power field.
· Syria: Japan is Syria’s main donor. It gave US$23 million in grants during 1994 and provided a loan of approximately US$471 million for the building of Az-Zara and Jander thermal power plants during 1995.
· Lebanon: In February 1995, Japan sent diplomats to its Beirut Embassy. A few months later it sent two teams, one to explore economic cooperation and another to survey loans, to Lebanon. It is interested in taking part in the international committee for the reconstruction of Lebanon.
Besides these bilateral arrangements, Japan was an active player in the Middle East and North Africa Economic Conferences held in Rabat (1994), Amman (1995) and Cairo (1996). It has also supported the establishment of the Bank for Economic Cooperation and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, which will encourage a flow of private funds into the region and be conducive to the support of peace in the region. The Cairo Economic Conference declared in November 1996 that the bank would start functioning by 1997.
5. Japanese participation in the UN peacekeeping, Golan Heights:
In February 1996, Japan dispatched a ground Self-Defense Force and other personnel to the UNDOF stationed on the Golan Heights. Their mission is to provide secondary support for staff and transportation for UNDOF. The 43-member Japanese transport platoon is stationed at Camp Ziouani in Israel and Camp Faouar in Syria.
In order to understand Japanese participation in the peace process it is essential to stress some central issues. Do Japanese policy makers have a better understanding of the Middle East as a result of their involvement in the region? Will Japan’s participation place it as a major external player in the Middle East? If there is a constant deadlock or even cessation of the peace process, could complete identification with it harm Japanese interests? It appears that answers to these questions are in the negative.
Despite Japan's new political attitude to the region, the past Japanese perception of being ‘a latecomer’ to the region, which helped to explain its low political commitment in the region, is presently used to explain Japan's political limitations. However, instead of defining itself as a ‘latecomer’, Japan is now calling itself a ‘newcomer’ to the Middle East. This ‘newcomer’ stand represents a two-fold message. One, being a newcomer, Japan still finds it very difficult to understand the cultural and political trends in the region such as schisms in the Arab World, Arab political culture, social and internal problems such as diverse ethnic groups within one political framework, the gap between wealthy Gulf countries and their lack of political stability, etc. At the same time, being a newcomer to the region makes it difficult for Middle East countries to appreciate the Japanese contribution to the region in comparison to other Western countries. For example, Japan claimed that Israel underestimates its contribution to the peace process and treats the Japanese as secondary to the American and European contributors.
One might therefore conclude that although it has used a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to promote its interests in the region, Japan feels that it is still regarded as a secondary influence in the Middle East. This is partly due to the profound psychological roots of its dependent relations with the region that has made it politically vulnerable for a long time. Japan finds it difficult to employ punitive measures because in its competition with China for international recognition, it is interested in being recognized as a prominent power by the Middle Eastern countries. This prevents it from taking any serious ‘stick measures’ to persuade the partners to accelerate the peace process. As such it is primarily concerned with the multilateral working groups while reminding itself that the success or failure of the whole process will depend upon the bilateral negotiations over which it has no influence.
The emergence of China as a superpower, as manifested by its nuclear capabilities, expanding navy, and its territorial assertions in the South China Sea, is becoming a real political problem for Japan today. To the Chinese potential one can add further sources of regional instability, such as the situation in the Korean peninsula, the concentration of military forces, including nuclear arsenals, unresolved territorial disputes, potential regional conflicts and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region. In the words of Morihiro Hosokawa, former prime minister and Diet member belonging to the New Frontier Party:
“Until World War II, Japan’s destiny was largely determined by our relations with China. In fact, the most serious issues Japan may confront in the future may well be those related to China. China, as our huge neighbor in the Pacific, will undoubtedly develop the industrial base and armaments commensurate with its large size and huge population. Over the past hundred years, China has had a history of difficult trials and tribulations. It is a history in which nationalistic impulses have not been entirely fulfilled. Hence I think it is necessary to pay sufficient attention to the latest desires of the Chinese State and the instability this introduces to Asia.”
Analyzing Chinese and Japanese relations with the Middle East leads to several questions. To what extent could the present Sino-Japanese competition over political, economic or strategic leadership in Asia affect Japanese policy towards the Middle East? To what extent are the Chinese and Japanese interests towards the region diverse, competitive or complementary? In addition, what potential implications could the Middle East have on the Sino-Japanese balance of power and in what areas?
the Middle East
Both countries have a common interest in promoting political and economic stability in the Middle East, not only to protect the uninterrupted flow of oil, especially to Japan, but also to enable greater access to local economic markets. As pointed out by Zhongqing Tian,
“Since the adoption of her open door policy, China has taken steps towards attaining three economic objectives in the Middle East; to sell more of her products in the rich market of the Middle East; to export her surplus labor to the Gulf countries; and to attract as much investment as possible from the state and private sectors of Arab countries.”
Although there are some common goals between Japan and China, there is no actual cooperation towards the realization of these objectives. This can partly be explained by their different political approach to the region. While Chinese influence is based primarily on strategic goods such as arms transfer and technology, Japan seeks influence through trade and commercial interests and its role as a potential bridge between the region and the United States.
In this sense, the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel on 24 January 1992 could be seen partly as a result of Chinese recognition of America’s influence and position in the Middle East. Israel’s first ambassador Zev Sufott recounts an interview of Foreign Minister Qian Qichen with the People’s Daily in June 1991. Summarizing China’s policies towards the Middle East, the minister said, “The most important thing is for the United States, which has a great influence on Israel, to play a greater role.”
Sufott commented on this remark as follows:
“Qian’s comments, carefully phrased as they were, could only indicate China’s acceptance of the major American role and initiative in the Middle East Peace Process, her giving priority to peaceful solutions rather than the assertion of a role of her own in the process, and her acquiescence in the subordination of UN auspices to other frameworks.”
The Middle East is likely to affect the Sino-Japanese balance of power in three distinct arenas, namely strategic and military positions, rivalry for political leadership, and economic competition. Although the estimates of Sino-Israeli military transactions are often exaggerated,
“Israel’s ability and willingness to provide compatible and advanced technology ... became an attractive proposition [for China]. Upgrading various weapons and systems supplied by the former Soviet Union and developing effective counter measures are the two important aspects of Israeli specialty.”
One cannot underestimate the impact of the Sino-Israeli military cooperation on Japanese security calculations. This raises the question of possible Japanese rearmament to counter any threats from China. The existing international system with the United States as the sole dominant power has not proved its ability or willingness to protect Japan as it did during the Cold War years. The signing on 15 April 1996 of the US-Japanese Agreement Concerning Reciprocal Provision of Logistic Support, Supplies and Services between the SDF of Japan and the American armed forces did not improve the situation. Reviewing the evolving political and security environment, it declared that the American President and Japanese Prime Minister agreed that a continued American military presence is essential for the preserving of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. In respect to Okinawa, where American facilities and areas are highly concentrated, the Prime Minister and the President reconfirmed that they were determined to carry out steps to consolidate, realign and reduce them.
The Chinese nuclear tests on the eve of the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have been criticized by Japan. In its view, this was more than a Chinese act of deterrence or a political/psychological tool. As Muruyama said in his policy speech to the 134th Session of the Diet on 29 September 1995,
“In response to the changes in the international situation in the post-Cold War era, we will also continue to vigorously review what defense capabilities are appropriate for the Self-Defense Forces from an overall perspective.”
Second, as Elhanan Harel, former chairman of the Israel-Japan Chamber of Commerce, remarked:
“The timing of the Middle East Peace Process proved perfect for Japan. The peace process coincided with Japan’s desire to evolve from a ‘mere’ global economic power to a political one: the peace process provided a key to koku-sai, the internationalization of Japan.”
However, the real question is why does Japan suddenly feel that it might become a political and not just economic superpower? Part of the answer lies in the structural changes that the international system has been facing since the end of the Cold War. The absence of superpower rivalry implied a political vacuum in different regional spheres, including Asia. Thus the question of who would fill this leadership vacuum in Asia is still open. This is likely to intensify the political competition between Japan and China in Asia and other parts of the world. The Sino-Japanese rivalry for leadership goes beyond Asia. The long delayed reorganization of the UN and the composition and size of the Security Council membership lead to the question concerning the Asian leadership role. To secure international recognition, political involvement in regional developments including the Middle East Peace Process becomes crucial for Japan. China in contrast was not part of the preparatory activities of the peace process. In the words of one Israeli diplomat, Beijing
“had not sought a major role of sponsorship of the Middle East talks. It had, in fact, given public blessing to the efforts of the sponsors to bring the parties to the dispute to the conference table.”
In addition, the competition for Asia’s other fast growing economies and the globalization of trade makes it harder for Japan to maintain its edge. Over the last decade China has become an export powerhouse. See Table 2, as follows:
Value of Chinese and Japanese Exports to the OPEC
(in US$ billion)
Source: Handbook of
International Trade and Development Statistics, 1994. New York: United Nations, 1995, pp. 58-9.
Though facing a number of problems such as inflation, widening regional gaps and difficulties in State enterprises, China enjoyed a remarkable growth rate of over ten percent in 1995. This means that China’s energy consumption will rise correspondingly. This could lead to a more bitter and complicated competition between China and Japan to secure energy supplies. In this regard it is interesting that Sino-Japanese energy competition could compel both countries ‘to court the Middle East’ for political, economic and strategic (at least China) considerations. As Kiyoshi Takahashi, advisor of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K. Tokyo said:
“Currently the Asia-Pacific region occupies about 60 percent of the world population, 25 percent of world GNP and 30 percent of world oil demand. Now this region emerges as an engine of world economic growth and oil, one of the main fuels of the engine, presented a rapid growth for its demand... For the past three years from 1990 to 1993, the regional oil demand increased by three million barrels per day (b/d). Looking at the outlook until 2000 and 2010, oil demand in this region is expected to grow at a good rate.”
Crude oil regional production in Asia for 1994 was about seven million barrels per day (b/d), while 9.3 million b/d of crude and oil products were imported from other regions. Future crude production, for the ten future years, is expected to remain at 7.1-7.2 million b/d. The regional demand for oil consumption would increase significantly without any corresponding improvement in the regional production. As a result, the Asian dependency on Middle East oil would grow significantly.
“According to a forecast by the East West Center, the import rate of crude oil and products from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific was nine million b/d (for 1994), and is estimated to increase to 13.3 million b/d in 2000 and to 20.1 million b/d in 2010.”
At present, the Asia-Pacific meets its demands for crude oil and petroleum products primarily through imports from outside the region.
“In the medium term future covering three to five years ahead, there will be no substantial change in the product supply demand balance. However, in the long term, China and India will emerge as gigantic markets for petroleum and thus the intra-sub-regional trade flow will change accordingly.”
As a result, the coming decade - if buoyant economic growth continues in Asia, as seems likely - holds the potential for tensions between Asian powers as regional oil markets tighten while contenders for supplies grow more diverse and competitive. China, Japan, the Koreans, and most ASEAN members will be vigorously bidding for imports in energy markets that until recently were much simpler and more relaxed.
There is no doubt that during the last years there have been some incremental changes in Japanese foreign policy pertaining to the Middle East, which have allowed for Japan’s participation in the Peace Process. The question, of course, arises as to whether or not we have the methodological tools to understand the quality of this change. Although changes of attitude and performance can be detected, it seems that the present Japan’s foreign policy in regard to the region is still deeply bound to its former foreign policy principles.
Japan’s foreign policy toward the region as a coherent part of its general foreign policy is still viewed through an American prism, which is increasingly criticized. Inside Japan, there is disappointment because of the lack of recognition of Japanese political participation abroad, while externally, there is growing pressure on Japan to fulfill its international (economic) commitments.
Japanese involvement in the region still occurs only when there seems to be no potential danger as a result of Japan’s political activities, and is still based mostly on its economic contribution. However, the continuation of a relative economic recession in Japan, together with the perceived political and economic instability of the Middle East, could prevent any significant change in Japanese direct investment in the region.
Under the Official Development Assistance, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign
Affairs defines the Middle East as a region that extends from the Pamirs
in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and from Turkey in the
north to Sudan in the south, comprising of the following 21 countries: Afghanistan,
Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya,
Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria,
the UAE and Yemen. Gaimusho (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Japan’s
Official Development Assistance, 1995, pp. 331-352.
Committee for Energy and Ministry of Trade and Industry estimates. Sogo Enerugi Chosakai - The Comprehensive
Energy Investigation Committee, Chukan Hokoku Soron (a general
interim report), June 1990.
Masukawa Shigehiko, Supply and Demand
for Energy in Japan. Tokyo: International Society for Educational Information,
to Saudi Arabia account for US$6,621 million in comparison to US$20,528
Japanese imports, and to the UAE, US$1,493 million in comparison to
Fiscal Statistics of Japan. Tokyo, 1994, p.74, 76.
Akifumi Ikeda, “Seeking a Say for Her Pay”,
in: Middle East Dialogue,
November 1994, p. 5.
Since the International Peace Cooperation Law was enacted in 1992, Japan has
dispatched SDF to Cambodia, Mozambique, Zaire and recently to the Golan
See the reelection of Ryutaro Hashimoto as a Prime Minister for a second
consecutive term on 7 November 1996. Hashimoto also serves as the President
of the LDP, the largest party in the National Diet.
Yoshitsu, Caught in the Middle East:
Japan’s Diplomacy in Transition. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Yohei Kono, “A Path
for the Future of Japan’s Foreign Policy.” Gaiko
Forum, Sekai-no Ugoki-sha, January 1995.
On 21 October 1996, Japan was elected as a non-permanent
member of the UN Security Council at the 51st UN General
Assembly. As a result, beginning 1 January 1997, Japan served as a
non-permanent member of the Security Council for a two-year term.
For discussions on the new approach see Yoshiji Nogami, “Japan’s
Middle East Policy in Transition,”
in: Japan Review of International Affairs,
vol. 7, no. 2
(Spring 1993), pp. 103-113; and Kunio Katakura, “Japan and
the Middle East,” in: Energy Policy,
vol. 20, no.11 (Nov. 1992), pp.1032-1036.
Hogan, “Import Management and Oil Emergencies”, in: David Deese and
Joseph Nye (eds.), Energy and Security.
Cambridge: 1981, p. 282.
See for example, Petroleum Supply and Demand Adjustment Law of
1973; petroleum tax was imposed from 1 June 1978.
IEA, Oil Supply Security: The Emergency Response Potential of IEA
Countries. Paris: OECD/IEA, 1995, p. 242.
oil imports from the Middle East accounted for 70.4 percent of total oil
imports in 1982, a situation that continued until 1990 when the share
began growing (to 72.7 percent in 1991 and a peak of 78.6 percent in 1995).
Petroleum Association of Japan, Sekiyu
Shiryo Geppo (Monthly Oil Bulletin), 1996.
oil export share in total Saudi Arabia and Kuwait exports income for the
fiscal year 1994: Saudi Arabia 89.1 percent, Kuwait 93.6 percent. Economic
Intelligence Unit, 1995 (Saudi Arabia and Kuwait Country Reports).
Kanovsky, OPEC Ascendant? Another Case
of Crying Wolf, Policy Paper no. 20, Washington Institute for Near East
Studies, 1990, p. 5.
Elihayu Kanovsky, The Economic
Consequences of the Persian Gulf War: Accelerating OPEC’s Demise,
Policy Paper no. 30, Washington Institute for Near East Studies, 1992, p.
discussions on Japanese-Israeli relations see Ben-Ami Shillony, “Japan and
Israel: The Relation That Withstood Pressures,” in: Middle
East Review, vol. 18, no.2 (Winter 1985), pp.17-24; Liat Collins,
“Improving Japanese-Israeli Relations,”
in: The Israel Economist, 43
(November 1987), pp.10-13; Willy Stern, “Japan: A Willing Participant in
the Arab Boycott of Israel,” in: Middle
East Review, vol. 21, no.1 (Fall 1988), pp.47-53; Kurt W. Radtke,
“Japan-Israel Relations in the Eighties,” in: Asian
Survey, vol. 18 no. 5 (May 1988), pp. 527-540; Akifumi Ikeda,
“Japan’s Relation with Israel,” in: Japan
in the Contemporary Middle East, Kaoru Sugihara and J.A. Allan (eds.),
London/New York: SOAS Center of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 1993,
pp.155-169; and Ruth Shuster, “Japan: Rising Sun over Israel,” in: Link,
vol.6, no. 51 (October 1996), pp.40-50.
were raised to the level of embassies in 1963.
Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Japanese state television (NHK) office has been
opened in Jerusalem, reporting constantly about Israeli and Middle East
affairs to Japan.
Ami-Shillony, “Japan and Israel”, op.cit., p. 21.
These include the visits of Foreign Minister Nakayama (June 1991),
Minister Kakizawa (Spring 1994), and Prime Minister Muruyama (September
1995). Israeli visitors include Foreign Minister Peres (December 1992) and
Prime Minister Rabin (December 1994).
In 1993 Israeli exports to Japan grew by 15 percent.
Shuster, “Japan”, op.cit., p.43.
Muruyama’s visit (12-19 September 1995) included the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Syrian Arab Republic, the State of
Israel and the Gaza Strip. It was the first time that Japan’s Prime
Minister visited Israel and Syria.
Statement of the Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the
decision of the Government of Israel to construct housing in East
Jerusalem, Tokyo, 27 February 1997.
Press conference of the Press Secretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs Press,
MOFA, 4 April 1997.
Liat Collins and Hillel Kuttler, “Arab FMs Agree to Renew Boycott,”
in: The Jerusalem Post, 1
April 1997. See also, John Lancaster, “Arab League Votes to Renew Business
Boycott Against Israel,” in: The
Washington Post, 1 April 1997, p.
Kuroda, Japan in a New World Order:
Contributing to the
Arab-Israeli Peace Process. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1994.
by Prime Minister Tomiichi Muruyama during his visit to the Middle East, 18
has so far provided a total of US$184 million including US$10 million for
housing support for Palestinian police and US$5 million for the Gaza Clean
Up Project. By November 1996, some US$252 million had been provided.
supply is given either in a bilateral way or through international
organizations such as the UNDP and UNRWA.
Press Conference by the Press Secretary, 21 March 1997.
Support for the Middle East Peace,” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
Japan as 'a latecomer' regards its relatively late encounter with the
various Middle East countries as a result of the fact that it had no
colonial, historical and cultural links with the region, in contrast to some
Japan being ‘a newcomer’ to the Middle East refers to its political and
cultural distance from the region due to the absence of a historical
background in Middle East colonialism and its late entry in the region.
Spratly Islands, over which Vietnam and China have claims, are located in
one of the most strategic waterways in the region. This route accounts for
70 percent of Japan’s imports. Rival claims by Taiwan, the Philippines,
Malaysia and Brunei over parts of the islands complicate the picture. There
is also a dispute concerning the ownership of Diaoyutai Isles and Tokdo
Islands between Japan and China.
Hosokawa, Rebuilding the US-Japan
Security Structure, Seattle, Washington, 12
Tian, “China and the Middle East: Principles and
Realities,” in: Middle East Review,
vol. 18, no. 2 (Winter 1985), p.13.
detailed discussions on Chinese arms trade see Gerald Segal
and W.T. Tow (eds.), Chinese Defense
Policy. London: Macmillan, 1984; and Anne Gilks and Gerald Segal, China and the Arms Trade. London: Croom Helm, 1985.
the late 1970s and early 1980s Japanese identification with the American
political objectives in the region was seen by the Arabs as an impediment
for Japanese interests in the region. The end of the Cold War and the peace
process have given a new twist to this perception. Sharing a common
political stand with Washington is beneficial to the Japanese drive to
enhance its position in the region.
in Zev Sufott, A China Diary: Towards
the Establishment of China-Israel Diplomatic Relations. London: Frank
Cass, 1997, p.71.
R. Kumaraswamy, “The Military Dimensions of Israel-China Relations,” in China Report (New Delhi), vol.31, no.2 (April 1995), p. 246.
Japan-US Joint Declaration of 15 April 1996. Seventy-five percent of
American military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, which places
a great burden on the people of the small island. The long running
controversy took a turn for the worse when three American service men were
accused of raping a local teenager.
The interim report of the Special Action Committee on Facilities
and Areas in Okinawa (SACO) agreed between the two governments suggested
some reduction of American forces in Okinawa. In a non-binding referendum
held on 8 September 1996 the residents of the island overwhelmingly
endorsed the call for a reduced American presence. Prime Minister
Hashimoto offered a US$50 million aid package in return for renewing the
leases of the American bases.
Tomiichi Muruyama, Policy Speech to the 134th Session of the
Diet, September 29, 1995.
“Japan”, op.cit., p. 40.
A China Diary, op.cit., p.116.
Kiyoshi Takahashi, Emergence of the
Market and Japanese Refiner’s Strategies,
presented at the Fourth Annual Petroleum and Gas Conference, Bahrain, 17
January 1996, p. 2.
Ibid., pp. 4-5.
Kent E. Calder, “Asia’s Empty Tank,” in: Foreign
Affairs, vol. 75, no. 2 (April/March 1996), p.55.