Kanji Fujiki, Ambassador of Japan to the UAE Image Credit: GN Archives

From trade and investment to culture, tourism and education, Japan and the UAE share strong bilateral relations. The ties between the two nations have further been strengthened with the implementation of the mutual visa waiver last year.

“This was agreed upon during a meeting last April between Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Fumio Kishida, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan at that time, in Tokyo,” says Kanji Fujiki, Ambassador of Japan to the UAE. “A visa waiver is one of the most effective measures to boost human interactions and economic relations. I am sure this will contribute to pushing our bilateral ties further to explore new aspects.”

High-level visits between the UAE and Japan have also cemented bilateral ties. Tarō Kōno, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and Hiroshige Sekō, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, visited the UAE recently to meet His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Shaikh Abdullah, and other ministers and high-level government officials. “From the UAE to Japan, Shaikh Abdullah visited Japan last April to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and other ministers,” says the ambassador.

In a unique initiative, Kōno appointed Japanese actor and singer Hideaki Takizawa as the Japan-UAE Goodwill Ambassador last August. “It is the first time in our long history of friendship that a Goodwill Ambassador to the UAE was officially appointed by the government of Japan,” says Fujiki.

“He is a star singer, actor and dance performer, but he is particularly famous for modernising Kabuki, one of the oldest and most established forms of theatrical arts, for the times we live in. Takizawa will promote Japanese culture in a way that would enable the people of the UAE to get acquainted with broader and deeper cultural aspects of Japan.” Takizawa made his first visit to the UAE as Goodwill Ambassador in October.

On the economic front, the total bilateral trade reached $24.96 billion (Dh91.67 billion) in the first 11 months of 2017 from $22.79 billion over the same period in 2016, a growth of 9.51 per cent. According to Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) Dubai, motor vehicles, general machinery, iron and steel, and electrical machinery are the major exports of Japan to the UAE, while it imports fuel and semi processed aluminium.

“While the oil and gas sector is still the most important segment for the two nations, Japan and the UAE are very eager to diversify the bilateral relationship,” says Fujiki. “Based on a set of joint statements issued during the exchanges of visits by our top leaders in 2013 and 2014, the two countries have worked closely to open new channels of collaboration in areas of common interests and mutual benefit.

“Last April, both countries reached an agreement in principle with regard to a bilateral investment agreement. In another significant progress, Japanese trading firm Marubeni signed a finance agreement for the Sweihan Photovoltaic Independent Power Project with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company. The project will bring 1,177MW of solar power at the recordbreaking cost of 2.42 US cents/KWh. Progress also took place in space cooperation, where it has been decided the Emirates Mars Mission’s spacecraft will be launched in 2020 by a Japanese rocket manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.”

Security and defence are other areas where both countries are working to enhance mutual cooperation. “The UAE and Japan acknowledge the importance of regional stability, counterterrorism, humanitarian aid and non proliferation of nuclear weapons, among others,” he says. “Mutual cooperation in these fields is especially essential to cope with the recent unstable situations around the world and the threat of growing violent terrorism.”

Last year, Japan appointed a defence attaché at its embassy in Abu Dhabi for the first time, emphasising its strengthening defence ties with the UAE. Students from the UAE have started to explore study opportunities in Japan. Out of 68 Emirati students, 21 are taking Japanese language courses before officially enrolling at universities. “Courses popular with UAE students include aerospace/astronautics engineering, robotics, AI and nuclear engineering,” says Munehiro Mishima, General Manager, Japan International Cooperation Centre Abu Dhabi.

Fujiki points out that this year will see the first batch of Emirati students graduating from the Japanese School in Abu Dhabi, while proceeding to a high school in Japan.

“Last year, the UAE sent several missions at ministerial level to Japan to facilitate its educational reform such as the unification of education curriculum, as well as the launch of moral education. Japan and the UAE can mutually contribute to constructing a first-rate education system with Japan’s experience and the UAE’s innovative policy.”