Prime Minister of Japan Seeking Foothold in Middle East and Africa

Shinzo Abe the Prime Minister of Japan met the Sultan of Oman a Thursday. The sultan is a key mediator behind the scenes between Iran and other countries. Japan is attempting to solidify its ties to the important region that supplies oil.

The visit by Abe to the small kingdom on the Persian Gulf demonstrates how important Japan considers the region as its main energy supplier. With virtually zero domestic oil sources, Japan must rely almost entirely on imports of fossil fuel, which have increased after stopping its 50 reactors in the country following the nuclear accident of 2011.

Japan relies on the Middle East region for up to 90% of all its oil and nearly 30% of its supply of natural gas.

Abe’s visit is one of four nations in the region he will stop at. It makes Abe the first leader of Japan to visit all the six monarchies in the Gulf. Oman is the first stop for the Japanese Prime Minister in a tour of one week that will take him as well to Ethiopia, Mozambique and the Ivory Coast.

On his Africa leg of the tour, Abe will be joined by executives from over 20 countries.

Japan, with China as an economic rival in mind, is searching for new markets overseas to sell power plants, generators and cars and purchase fuels as well as raw materials.

Oman has a unique position within the Gulf Region due to its ability to ship gas and oil without needing the Strait of Hormuz, which can be blocked easily. The country could provide over ground alternative routes as well for other nations in the Gulf for making shipments outside the area, should the Strait of Hormuz have problems with blockades.

In addition, it would be beneficial for Japan that the West and Iran have better relations. That could lead to the sanctions on gas and oil exports being lifted.

However, officials in Japan want to show that the region is more than only an energy source. They know that an important figure in the landmark nuclear accord last November between the West and Iran was Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.

Abe wants to propose to the Sultan that both countries increase cooperation in fighting piracy across the Arabian Sea.

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