In many ways, the first visit in three years by a Japanese prime minister to the Gulf Arab states was groundbreaking.
Curiously, however, only one major daily in Japan carried an editorial on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, a former Middle East hand who worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Are the journalists ignorant? Do they still believe that Japan's policies toward the Gulf remain the same — that they only wish to secure energy?
Perhaps the answer is the latter. The editorial in a liberal daily titled, "Japan and the Middle East: Seizing Change for Autonomous Diplomacy" was just as old-fashioned as ever. At the outset, the editorial was correct in describing Kishida’s trip as "a visit that will test the conceptual ability of Japan’s diplomacy to face up to the tectonic changes under way in the Middle East." Well, whether this is a true "tectonic shift" or merely a "tactical policy change," as is often the case in the Middle East, may be a matter of debate.