In this July 19, 2022, file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, holds talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Japan’s Cabinet Public Affairs Office)

How should Japan deal with the Persian Gulf countries rich in energy resources amid the turbulent state of international affairs? Tokyo needs to adopt diplomatic strategies to deal with the Middle East.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has returned to Japan after visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. It was the first time for a sitting Japanese prime minister to visit the Middle East in 3 1/2 years. There, Kishida agreed with his counterparts to boost cooperation in the energy sector, among other agenda.

Since the 1973 oil crisis, Japan has been working on diversifying energy suppliers, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the situation upside down. Energy supply concerns have become visible, and Japan needs to strengthen relations with the Middle East in an urgent manner to secure stable resources.

During his latest trip, Kishida called on the Middle Eastern countries to work with Tokyo in decarbonization and clean energy initiatives that Japan has long undertaken. As the Middle East is looking to adapt to the decarbonized age and break away from oil dependence, his approach can be called appropriate.

The Middle East has been going through major changes recently. We are witnessing efforts to ease tensions within the Arab world, such as the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations after years of hostility. Civil war-torn Syria has also returned to the regional organization Arab League.

Their move to shift from conflict to cooperation is motivated by the desire to achieve economic growth in each country in the region. It’s also true that intensifying youth movements demanding social changes have pushed Arab state authorities to act.

The Middle East’s relations with the United States and China have also transformed radically. Washington’s interest has shifted to the Indo-Pacific after the “shale revolution” which made the U.S. the largest oil producer. As if to fill in the vacuum, China, the second largest oil consumer, has been engaging in proactive diplomacy with the Middle East. Beijing has made it clear that it’s boosting engagement with the region, as seen in how it brokered the Saudi-Iran accord.

Under these circumstances, Japan is facing challenges over its diplomatic strategies with the Middle East. It’s only natural for a state to purse its own interests for its economic and social benefits. However, Prime Minister Kishida has been preaching the importance of the rule of law. Japan must not forget to convey its concerns over the oppression of women’s rights and the clampdown on opposition forces in the region.

It will be difficult to build a long-lasting stable relationship with the Arab world just by playing energy diplomacy. Now is the time, at this historical turning point, that Japan must aim for a unique diplomacy supportive of the people living in the countries in the region.