The evolution of Saudi-Japan relations

Saudi Arabia, Japan, Mohammad bin-Salman

Geographically, Saudi Arabia and Japan may be worlds apart, but recent developments have showcased just how close the two nations have become in political, economic, and strategic spheres. This growing closeness was highlighted by a high-profile delegation visit from Saudi Arabia to Japan, underscoring a significant shift from a transactional to a strategic partnership.

The planned delegation to Japan, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was slightly subdued due to the eleventh-hour cancellation of the Crown Prince’s trip following King Salman’s hospitalization. Nevertheless, the visit proceeded with high-level officials, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the influential Energy Minister; Prince Badr bin Farhan, the Minister of Culture; Abdullah Al-Swaha, Minister of Communications and Information Technology; and Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Investment. This strong delegation underscored Saudi Arabia’s commitment to deepening its ties with Japan, conveying a clear message that the relationship’s significance transcends individual leaders’ availability.

A pivotal aspect of the Saudi-Japan relationship has always been energy. Japan, a net importer of energy, relies heavily on Saudi oil, with about 45 percent of its crude imports coming from the Kingdom. The Crown Prince reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to providing Japan with a stable oil supply during a video call with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. This commitment is crucial for Japan’s energy security and showcases Saudi Arabia’s role as a reliable energy partner.

However, the conversation between the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Kishida highlighted a broader vision for energy cooperation. Both countries recognize the need to diversify energy sources, emphasizing cleaner and more sustainable options. This strategic pivot aligns with global trends towards sustainability and offers a pathway for Saudi Arabia to leverage its vast energy expertise in new and innovative ways.

Energy is just one facet of the burgeoning Saudi-Japan relationship. As the two nations prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2025, they have established a Strategic Partnership Council to oversee and enhance bilateral cooperation across various sectors. This council symbolizes a commitment to a long-term, multi-faceted partnership that goes beyond traditional energy transactions.

Prime Minister Kishida expressed a strong interest in Saudi investments across a broad spectrum of industries, including construction, power transmission, hydrogen utilization, digital technologies, information and communication technology (ICT), space exploration, health, medicine, food, and agriculture. This diversification indicates a mutual recognition of the vast potential that lies in cross-sector collaboration.

Saudi Arabia’s declared policy focuses on regional stability, a goal that aligns closely with Japan’s interests. Japan’s energy security is intricately tied to the stability of the Middle East, making peace and prosperity in the region a shared objective. The two nations can leverage their diplomatic and economic influence to foster stability, which is beneficial not only for themselves but also for the broader international community.

Additionally, both countries face regional challenges. Saudi Arabia, with its significant diplomatic influence, can play a pivotal role in addressing and potentially mediating regional conflicts that concern Japan. This includes shared interests in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the reduction of weapons of mass destruction, further solidifying their strategic alignment on global security issues.

Both Saudi Arabia and Japan maintain close relationships with the United States, adding another layer to their strategic partnership. Ensuring strong and beneficial ties with Washington is a mutual interest, providing a platform for trilateral cooperation in various domains, including defense, technology, and trade. This triangular relationship enhances the strategic depth and global influence of both Saudi Arabia and Japan.

One of the significant challenges in sustaining this strategic vision is the political volatility that can arise from changing governments, particularly in Japan. To mitigate this, both nations recognize the importance of creating multi-stakeholder value. Business leaders from both countries play a crucial role in ensuring that the bilateral relationship remains robust, regardless of political changes.

By fostering deep interdependence through business and economic ties, Saudi Arabia and Japan can safeguard their shared vision. This approach ensures that their collaboration benefits both peoples and remains resilient in the face of political shifts.

Beyond economics and politics, cultural and social exchanges are vital components of the Saudi-Japan relationship. The Japanese Prime Minister expressed enthusiasm about passing the World Expo torch from Osaka in 2025 to Riyadh in 2030. This gesture symbolizes a commitment to enhancing exchanges in entertainment, tourism, academia, and sports. Such interactions will not only deepen mutual understanding but also strengthen people-to-people connections, laying a solid foundation for long-term friendship.

As Saudi Arabia and Japan move from a transactional to a strategic partnership, the multifaceted nature of their relationship becomes increasingly evident. From energy cooperation to broad-based economic collaboration, regional stability efforts, and cultural exchanges, the two countries are forging a comprehensive and resilient partnership. This evolving relationship, rooted in mutual interests and shared values, promises to bring lasting benefits to both nations and contribute to global peace and prosperity.

The torch of friendship that Saudi Arabia and Japan lit almost 70 years ago now burns brighter than ever, signaling a future of close collaboration and shared success. As they continue to build on this foundation, Saudi Arabia and Japan exemplify how distant nations can come together to forge a strategic and enduring partnership.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here