Ismail Serageldin


Japan - Arab Dialogue Forum

 19/11/2007 | Fifth Session, Alexandria, Egypt


The Japan-Arab Dialogue Forum was set up as an informal means to explore ideas and strengthen cooperation between Japan and the Arab world for the benefit of all parties involved. The first meeting of the Japan Arab Dialogue Forum was held in Tokyo in September 2003. Subsequent meetings in Alexandria (2004), Riyadh (2005) and Tokyo (2006). This fifth meeting was held in Alexandria on 19 November 2007, hosted by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The delegations of Japan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt meeting in this fifth session of the Japan-Arab Dialogue Forum have reviewed three topics: The political situation, avenues for economic cooperation and the promotion of the Japan-Arab cultural dialogue. On each of these topics, the parties reviewed possibilities and candidly shared views and analyses, hopes and concerns. The discussions were on the whole very candid and very wide ranging.

The three heads of delegations (Mr. Taro Nakayama, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan; Mr. Abdul Rahman Al-Zamil, Member of the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia and Mr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria of Egypt) agreed in substance on this summary of the discussions being presented by the chairman at a joint press conference on 19 November 2007.

1. Politics:

We addressed four topics: Palestine, Iraq, and the pressures of fragmentation; Iran and nuclear proliferation; and global terrorism.

1.1 Palestine:

Palestine remains the major issue… the Arab position is peaceful and clear. It is the Saudi Initiative adopted by the Arab League, which offers full recognition for withdrawal and the Palestinian State… yet the occupation continues and the pressures on the Palestinian people are intensified. The arrest and imprisonment of the elected officials of Hamas, and the sanctions and siege of Gaza exacerbate the generalized economic and political hardships in the occupied territories. Only a final peaceful solution will change their conditions for the better. Furthermore, the Hamas – Fateh split has complicated the prospects for peace.

Japan’s efforts on the corridor of peace (an economic project) are noted and appreciated, and Egypt’s ongoing efforts to promote peace are strongly supported.

The road to peace must be pursued with a clear vision: two independent, viable, secure and sustainable states, living side by side in peace. The meeting in Annapolis should not only pursue this vision, it should create a framework for its implementation with milestones and a timetable.

It is important that Japan use its good offices diplomatically, to assist in the success of the peace initiative in the limited window that now exists.

Arabs empathize with the Palestinian people in their daily struggle. The continued oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people will continue to poison the relations of Arabs and Muslims with the international powers, especially the west.

The political issues also impact profoundly on the economic issues including the price of oil and the climate for investment.

1.2 Iraq:

Concerned by the tensions in the region, the participants are fully aware of the limitations that Japan’s constitution and public opinion place on the deployment of troops in combat zones or to participate in combat mission, and recognize that Japan’s role will be primarily political and diplomatic. Japan’s role in maritime assistance to prevent potential terrorism in the Indian Ocean was duly noted.

But the participants expressed profound concern about the possibility of the partition of Iraq, de jure or de facto, into three parts and the consequent problems that could cascade from such an outcome. We recognized that peace and the integrity of the territory of Iraq would be achieved only politically, by the Iraqis themselves, and cannot be imposed by force from outside.

More generally there was concern on the pressures to fragmentation and possible balkanization of many countries in the region such as Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia.

1.3 Iran and Nuclear proliferation:

OPEC decisions to stand by its obligations was welcomed. But there is serious concern about nuclear proliferation and the escalation of tensions between the west and Iran. We reaffirmed the view that declaring the ME a zone free of WMD, including nuclear weapons, would be welcome.

1.4 Terrorism:

The topic was sketched out at the session but not discussed, and it was agreed that this should be discussed at a future session.

2. Economic Issues:

We noted that Japan-Arab trade was considerable but that reciprocal investments were very limited. These still tended to be dominated by the energy sector. Indeed, 90% of the crude used by Japan comes from the ME. But energy should not be the only sector. We need more comprehensive collaboration. The Gulf is becoming a financial center, and Egypt is considered one of the highly promising economies as its reforms are taking hold and economic growth is taking off. As the world starts thinking of the post oil and post gas society, the importance of human resources is underlined.

But as we move towards more multi-tiered relationships, we must think in terms of five areas:


  • Further expansion in trade: The FTA between Japan and GCC may be followed by more.
  • Investment from Japan: Japan can provide help in diversification of the industrial base of the Arab countries.
  • Investment from Arabs… Opening up new routes of relations with Japan.
  • Development of human resources including on the job training. No short term answers: a steady and long term commitment is needed.
  • Application of technologies: Renewable energies, and new materials (e.g. silicon initiative in Egypt) and new biotechnologies, and recognizing the importance of compatibility of the production with the needs of other nations. It was also noted that Japan has some of the most advanced nuclear reactor technology in the world.

It was noted that land and labor and finance are available in the Arab world and that technology and finance are available from Japan. That we should encourage equity investment in new fields as well. Perhaps starting with more assembly in the region is possible, as we develop some new joint ventures in promising new technologies. This could be a propitious time to do this as there seems to be a rapid change in the attitude of Japanese companies.

Also, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto protocol may obtain some credits for upgrading some facilities, and the possibilities of exploring applications of solar energy technology is to be explored.

Perhaps the Japan-Arab Conference which will start tomorrow will generate some contacts that could help in the development of new relations.

3. On Cultural dialogue:

The key issue for many countries in this time of globalization and technological transformation, including Egypt and many parts of the Arab world, is how to achieve “Modernization” without submitting to “Westernization”. We all want to be part of the new knowledge-based society and economy, but we are also attached to our culture and our identity. Our heritage is the touchstone of our memories and the wellspring of our imagination and creativity. That delicate balance has seldom been achieved, but Japan achieved that feat not once, but twice. First in the original 19th Century confrontation which led to Meiji Restoration and transformed Japan into a world power in about four decades, and again when Japan rose phoenix-like from the ashes of World War 2 in the economic miracle that left the world gaping in disbelief. In both cases, Japan succeeded in modernizing and mastering the best of science and technology and becoming the undisputed world-leader in field after field of science and technology and line after line of production. We want to explore different facets of this modernization distinct from westernization, and benefit from the experience of Japan in this most important challenge.

Specifically, we explored intensifying cultural exchanges, and the possibilities of new strategic and applied research partnerships in selected fields. We recommend seeking immediate increases in the numbers of exchanges, in everything from tourism to academic studies; from art and cultural exhibitions to large-scale training in entrepreneurship and industrial production. We should intensify the programming of such visits through the existing channels.

We noted the programs supported by Japan in terms of training in Saudi Arabia and the development of a special Japan-Egypt University near Alexandria.

We must intensify efforts at translation of works, to know better the other cultures, through the jewels of their literature and their masterworks. The possibility of calling on the new Mohamed bin Rashed Foundation for supporting the translation of Japanese woks was noted.

Cultural heritage has much to offer each generation, by strengthening cultural continuity and encouraging not only respect of the past, but also allowing the new generation to create the foundations for inventing their own masterpieces that will be the heritage of future generations. Respect for heritage is important, and the sad examples of the Taliban destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas were noted as unrepresentative and destructive cases.

But the prospects deserve our exploration, and the coming conference starting tomorrow should carry forward this dialogue of cultures. A better understanding of our cultures would undoubtedly facilitate the dialogue on the technical and scientific as well as the economic and the political issues that divide or unite us.

4. Next Meeting:

The participants agreed to the offer of Saudi Arabia to host the next meeting of the Japan-Arab Dialogue Forum. The specific timing and venue will be fixed through diplomatic channels. 


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