(MENAFN - Arab News) The Japan-Saudi relationship is a vast and dynamic web of cooperative linkages and undertakings, dating from well before the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1955 and growing continuously year on year.
Japan's long-standing and comprehensive relationship with Saudi Arabia operates at many levels and in many areas, including in trade, training, culture, education, research, economy and above all politics and international relations.
Bilateral cooperation is strong - many Japanese government departments have productive cooperation programs and memoranda of understanding with their Saudi counterparts, and hold regular exchanges at various levels.
Both countries enjoy an active working relationship in international for as well.
This is in addition to the strong people-to-people that exist between the two countries.
Japan and Saudi Arabia also share similar approaches on a host of regional and international issues of common concerns.
Japan, though far from the Middle East, is highly interested in the restoration of peace and stability in the region. Therefore it has been doing its utmost for that purpose and will continue to do so as much as possible. Seriously concerned about the Syrian crisis, especially deteriorating humanitarian situation, Japan has provided assistance of around 280 million.
Japan also supports the Arab Peace Initiative and has provided more than 1.35 billion in assistance to the Palestinian people since 1993.
It is important to stress that Saudi Arabia and Japan have had a long historical relationship that in fact dates to the late 1930s.
The Saudi-Japan relationship is distinctively built on common values and shared interests.
It has proven to be a model for bridging the gap between people and culture.
Visits by members of the royal families and government officials from both countries contributed significantly toward strengthening the bonds and scopes of cooperation.
Japan, the second largest economy in the world, enjoys respect and admiration around the globe. Since Japan and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations, Japan has become one of the biggest importers of Saudi oil, with trade in 2010 exceeding 43 billion.
Japanese direct investment in Saudi Arabia is now the third largest among nations' foreign direct investment, a relationship that is characterized as "complementary," for both nations.
On the political level, Japan plays a central role, in Asia in particular and the world in general, in supporting peace and stability in the Middle East.
On the economic level, Japan is Saudi Arabia's second largest trading partner, where it receives one-third of its energy supplies and Japanese trade and industrial investments support the development of the Saudi economy.
This is further supplemented by the visits of the leaders and senior officials of both nations, which take place on a regular basis. The relations are based on mutual trust.
In fact, the Kingdom has always valued its friendship with Japan.
It should be remembered that Japan was excluded by the Arab states from the oil embargo of the 1970s.
More recently, Saudi Arabia acted immediately to provide replacements to Japan to meet its energy requirements following the sanctions on Iran.
Such actions do not occur in a vacuum but are part and parcel of an understanding about the value of relations on both sides.
Naturally, mutual interests, trade and energy form the basis for bilateral ties.
In fact, Saudi Arabia is the second largest export market for Japanese goods in the Gulf region and the first in terms of exports from the Gulf to Japan. Out of more than 150 billion in total trade between the GCC and Japan in 2012, more than one-third, or approximately 55 billion was accounted for by trade between Saudi Arabia and Japan. That is higher than the Kingdom's trade with any other Asian nation including China, India and South Korea.
Under the new economic growth policies of Japan, the expectation is that this trade volume will witness further increases in the near future.
But while trade and energy lie at the heart of Saudi-Japan relations, there is the need to go beyond the current framework of ties to introduce a higher level of strategic thinking.
Viewed from the Kingdom, Japan is a key country in Asia that will play an even more important role as the Asia-Pacific area becomes the strategic region of the 21st century.
At the same time, the issues defining peace and security in the Gulf region remain critical for the overall future of Japan, meaning that Japan has a clear interest in engaging in dialogue about how to maintain and strengthen the Gulf's stability.
From both these angles, therefore, there is a need for closer and more constant political coordination that can produce tangible benefits for Saudi Arabia and Japan.
A more specific area of Japanese involvement could be to assist with minesweeping services in the waters of the Gulf given the impact that mines have already had on disrupting exports from the Gulf region dur- ing the devastating Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Nobody wants such a situation to be repeated. As such, cooperation at the naval level also needs more atten- tion.
Turning to economics, there are specific opportuni- ties for Japan in the Kingdom. One area is civilian nuclear technology where Japan, in spite of the terri- ble and unprecedented tragedy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, continues to have the strongest safety record based on practical experience.
Given Saudi Arabia's growth, a diversified energy base that includes hydrocarbons, nuclear, and renew- ables is essential and unavoidable. In all three areas, as well as the provision of clean energy technology and water resource development, Japan can play a key role.
Finally, more effort can be made on the cultural and social front in order to maintain the people-to- people contact that forms the basis of any solid rela- tionship. With more than 400 Saudi students already studying in Japan, a first important step has been taken but more can still be done.