Studies undertaken on Japan’s relations with Arab countries and the region of the Middle East tend to focus on Japanese political dealings with this region, which is treated as a unitary block. In a sense this is understandable given the common perception of the region in Japan, where detailed differentiation among Arab states is rarely made. In particular, no adequate research has been done on the role played by the Middle East and African Affairs Bureau (MEAB) within Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), despite the fact that this is the bureau entrusted with formulating Japan’s official Arab policy.
The aim of this paper is to present a brief and comprehensive overview of Japan’s relations with the Arab countries as seen through the eyes of MOFA. First, in order to facilitate a better understanding of the topic, an outline of modern diplomatic history will be presented to give some background of events that have shaped the relationship and reasons that explain the development of MOFA diplomatic strategy for the Middle East. Then I will try to reveal the strategies of MOFA’s MEAB bureaucrats for dealing with the area under study, namely the Arab League’s 22 member countries. In doing so I will demonstrate that MEAB categorizes these countries according to political, historical, and geographical considerations and divides the region into countries of paramount importance that are beneficial to Japan’s national interests, and those that are not. This categorization makes it clear that the role of the Middle East region and in particular the Arab countries as an important source of oil—accounting for over 88 % of Japan’s energy imports—is of utmost importance to Japanese policy planners.
This presentation will be based on previous research on the topic, as well as on interviews of leading personalities from the academic, business, diplomatic (both Japanese and Arab), and political arenas who are involved, either directly or indirectly, in Japan-Arab relations.