"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Policy Address by Minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E. KONO Yohei (Subtitle: Toward Multi-layered relations with the Gulf Countries)

[Date] February 9, 2001
[Source] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
[Full text]

Distinguished guests,

As we enter the 21st century, I have chosen, as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, to visit your country and other Gulf countries as the first leg of my tour in the new century. I am greatly honored to have an opportunity to talk about the future relationship between the Gulf countries and Japan.

In recent years, the relationship between the Gulf countries and Japan has witnessed great developments, mainly in the economic field, centering on the import-export of oil. At the turn of the century, I believe it would be for the interests of both sides to establish multi-layered relations on top of the relations based on the oil import-export.

Further, if we look deeper into our relations with the Gulf countries, the question will be boiled down to Japan's relations with Islam. I have always held the view that it is important for conducting Japan's foreign policy to deepen our understanding of Islam, which has more than one billion followers, representing one-fifth of the world's population, and which is increasing its influence in various parts of the world. For this reason, I established a Study Group on Islam, with support of Dr. ITAGAKI Yuzo, sitting beside me today, and the Group recently issued a report.

While participating in the discussions of the Study Group, I have come to reinforce my wish to visit the Gulf countries, as soon as possible, which gave birth to Islam and formed a historically great civilization. Also, the United Nations designated the year 2001 as the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. It is exactly in such a meaningful year that I wished to realize my tour of dialogue with Islam.

1. Japan's Encounter with Islam

(1) Let me briefly touch upon the history with regard to Japan's relations with Islam. While Japan consolidated its foundation and made its debut on the international stage, accepting Buddhism, the nation of Islam was being established almost at the same time. Soon after that, exchanges between the two sides began. From the Islam side to Japan were imported glassware and other decorative articles, musical instruments like lutes or "ud," medicines like antidote or "tiryaq," as well as plenty of astronomical knowledge and calendar systems.

(2) The historical relationship between Japan and the Gulf region can be dated back relatively far to the early years of the 7th century of the Hegira calendar (in the early years of the 13th century of the Gregorian calendar). As time passed by, the exchange with the world of Islam, particularly with the Gulf countries and the acknowledgment of Islam strengthened in Japan through the development of transportation and the vitalization of travel.

(3) In spite of the history of these exchanges, most of the Japanese people had no other occasions of learning Islam except through the U.S.A. or Europe. As a result, only an exaggerated image of Islam, influenced by Western interpretations, was introduced to Japan. A real understanding of the general Japanese public has not departed from the exotic images represented by "The Thousand and One Nights," even today. So it is high time that we removed this kind of understanding from among the Japanese people.

(4) On the occasion of the successive discoveries of oil fields in the Gulf countries from the 1930s through the 1960s, the recognition of the Gulf region by Japan, a nation without underground natural resources, underwent a great change. It cannot be denied that, particularly during the oil crisis in 1973, the Japanese people have been inclined to perceive the Gulf countries only as oil-producers, and this perception has greatly grown so far.

2. Establishment of Multi-layered Relations

The present cooperation framework based on the principles of "Japan-Saudi Arabia Comprehensive Partnership toward the 21st Century" and "Japan-GCC Cooperation toward the 21st Century" consists of three pillars: politics, economics, and "the new areas." In this visit of mine, I propose to expand the target scope of this cooperation to make it multi-layered relations, reflecting the results of the Study Group of Islam.

To be more specific, I wish to materialize proactive cooperation in concrete forms in three areas: promotion of "dialogues among civilizations" with the world of Islam, water resources development, and promotion of wide-ranging policy dialogues, in addition to the present cooperation fields.

(1) Promotion of "dialogue among civilization" with the world of Islam

First, let me explain the "dialogue among civilization" with the world of Islam, whose concept lies at the base of my thoughts.

It seems to me that globalization, which is a major current movement in the contemporary world, is leading the world in the direction toward homogeneity, jointly with the development of communication means. However, I believe that each civilization and culture should not lose its brilliance in the course of globalization. We have to learn each other's civilization and the significance of fostering understanding of and generosity toward others through dialogues.

I intend to take several steps keeping the "dialogue among civilizations" with the world of Islam in mind. Firstly, I am thinking of creating a network among knowledgeable people in Japan and the Islamic countries, which may be called the "Network Among Intellectuals." I am also considering expanding and reinvigorating intellectual exchanges, such as holding of symposia, academic exchanges between universities, and personnel exchanges among youth. Through these dialogues in the form of personnel exchanges and exchanges of accumulated knowledge, it is essential to conduct intellectual activities, such as understanding of and generosity towards others, as well as reconfirming "the image of oneself in the eyes of others."

Thanks to the development of communication media, it has certainly become easier in modern times to have mutual dialogue works. Therefore, I wish to call for promoting transmission of messages of Islam through information technology (IT) and closer ties with Islamic nations, making full use of trends of the globalization and coexistence with the IT society.

(2) Water resources development

In the present cooperation framework, emphasis is placed on such fields as environment, investment, and human resource development. On the occasion of my visit, however, I intend to expand the scope of cooperation to make it multi-layered relations, promoting the cooperation in the existing framework. In this respect, I would like to pay a particular attention to the area of water resources development, if the Gulf countries agree.

Here in the Gulf region, people are suffering from the common problem of water shortage. Therefore, the problem of water resources has a vital meaning for the stability of the entire region, in addition to being an issue of development or of daily life.

Meanwhile, Japan, since it is surrounded by the sea, enjoys know-how of desalination of seawater and management of water resources. Making use of such know-how of ours, I intend to support water resources development.

We are already conducting cooperation with Saudi Arabia in this area. Recognizing that the water resources development is the common problem for the entire region, we give our cooperation in Saudi Arabia the status of pilot activities. Based upon the result of such cooperation, we intend to extend the cooperation to the other countries of the region in the medium-range term, thereby tackling the water resources problem in the whole region.

(3) Wide-ranging policy dialogue

The stability of the Gulf region occupies an important position not only for the economy of Japan but also the economy of the entire world. However, it is not correct to consider that the importance of the Gulf countries results solely from their supply of crude oil and its safe passage in the Gulf. In recent years, I have witnessed the Gulf countries increase their voices on global issues in many international conferences, to play active roles as important participants. I look forward to the Gulf countries becoming more interested in global issues, such as problems in East Asia. I believe it is significant for Japan and the Gulf, which are located at the furthest east and west, on the issue of the entire Asia, by exchanging opinions without reservation. Based on this recognition, I wish to build positive relations allowing both parties to promote policy dialogues to exchange frank opinions on wide-ranging issues, not limited only to the Gulf security but including also the Middle East peace process and political or economic problems in Asia.

Therefore, I intend to further activate forums between the G.C.C. countries and Japan, and policy dialogues and joint committees established so far with the Gulf countries, and to energize exchanges of views at the governmental level. With regard to policy dialogues involving both governmental and private circles, I wish to construct a multi-layered framework, not limited to the inter-governmental one, by holding seminars, for example, in collaboration with universities and think-tanks in the Gulf countries.

3. Expected Achievements

It is not for short-term economic interest that I recognized the need to create and develop relationships with the Gulf countries, which are Japan's important friends. Rather, it was due to the reflection on the past, when too much emphasis was placed on the economic aspect, and the relations became unilateral or partial.

We should again give sincere thoughts to each other and have more opportunities to express frank views. I will be greatly pleased if my initiatives can serve as a new start for such developments.

Thank you very much for your attention.