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Japan's "economic posture" in the Middle East
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08:59, August 23, 2007

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Last week Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso paid a visit to the Middle East and created two highlights. First, Japan resumed its economic assistance to Palestine. Taro Aso signed a $20 million emergency aid agreement with Prime Minister of Palestinian transitional government Salam Fayyad. Of this, $11 million are financial assistance to the Palestinian National Authority and the rest are to its civilians in the Gaza Strip. Second, Taro Aso discussed the possibility to unfold economic cooperation projects wit all parties within the framework of the "corridor for peace and prosperity". On the 15th, Aso and Jordan's Foreign Minister Abdelelah Al-Khatib, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat held talks in the West Bank town of Jericho. They elaborated not only the principles of economic cooperation, but also a number of economic cooperation projects jointly carried out by all parties such as constructing industrial parks, airports, highways and reconstructing two bridges across the Jordan River.

These two highlights indicate that Japan is markedly increasing its economic input in the Middle East region. In fact, in April of this year, its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led a large delegation and visited the Middle East, launching another round of diplomatic activities following former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Middle East in last July. To some extent, Aso carried on Abe's tour and even further expanded its connotation. All these visits demonstrate Japan's profound consideration on its geopolitical and energy interests in this region and show that the Japanese desire to maintain and consolidate the current oil supply pattern in the region and, at the same time, intensify its exports to the Middle East in step with the increasing competitive pressure.

All parties have attached great importance to Aso's visit. Both Palestine and Jordan sang high praise for Aso's tour and gave a positive response to Japan's concept of "corridor for peace and prosperity." They also placed high expectations on the economic cooperation projects proposed by Japan. The Arab media published quite a lot reports titled as "Make Jordan Valley a Valley for ‘peace and prosperity'" and "Join hands in building a corridor for peace."

Israel also welcomed the assistance offered by Aso. Despite the disputes between Israel and Palestine on the site of industrial park, Israel generally applauds for Japan's "corridor for peace and prosperity" plan. It believes that the current situation in Palestine is undergoing a positive change. Hamas has been gradually isolated and marginalized in Gaza. Fatah also quit its partnership with Hamas. As a result, the moderate Palestinian forces increased. Promoting economic cooperation with the Palestinian National Authority can further strengthen moderate forces and disunite, repel and suppress Hamas and other radical forces. Therefore, Japan's resuming aid to the Palestinians and its sub-regional economic cooperation will lend a helping hand to Israel.

However, the role of economic behaviors is limited after all. In this regard, all parties clearly understand that economic cooperation cannot substitute for the Middle East peace process. In such circumstances, it seems unlikely for Japan to fulfill its dream to achieve political power through enhancing its economic posture and involvement in the Middle East region. In addition, the Middle East has always been game land of leading powers. The United States, the EU and Russia have kept a close eye on this region for so many years. They won't allow Japan to put its foot in it by only providing economic aid. Even the United States, strategic ally of Japan, probably will just let Japan play a "pocketbook" role instead of sucking up political influence in the region.

By People's Daily Online

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