UAE and Japan Relations Research Paper

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An Analysis of Relations between United Arab Emirates and Japan

In an era when American influence in the world is waning, the bipolarity of the Cold War years is being replaced by regional partnerships that are mutually beneficial for all stakeholders. Indeed, one important international partnership that has emerged over the past half century has been between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Japan, with both countries expanding their diplomatic presence in each other’s capitals and investing heavily in exports, most especially oil and gas to Japan with the UAE importing electronics, vehicles and various types of machinery from Japan. Moreover, international analysts predict that this strategic partnership will continue to expand for the foreseeable future. The purpose of this research proposal was to provide an overview of the history of the relations between Japan and the UAE. A discussion concerning the origins of this modern relationship is followed by a description of the historic evolution of the relationship between these two countries. In addition, a discussion of the implications of these trends for the UAE and Japan is followed by an analysis of the weak points in their relations and how to strengthen these in the future. Finally, a summary of the research and key findings concerning the relations between the UAE and Japan are presented in the proposal’s conclusion.

Overview of the history of relations between the UAE and Japan

Both the UAE and Japan have open economies, high per capita income levels as well as impressive annual trade surpluses. In addition, the UAE has succeeded in diversifying its economy so that the portion of GDP derived from its oil and gas exports has been reduced by 30% in recent years (UAE economy, 2019). Furthermore, the UAE has taken steps to promote itself as a global trade hub, an initiative that has fueled increasing interest on the part of Japan which remains highly reliant on oil and gas exports from the UAE. In this regard, U.S. analysts report that, “Scarce in critical natural resources, Japan has long been dependent on imported energy and raw materials. After the complete shutdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors following the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011, Japan's industrial sector has become even more dependent than before on imported fossil fuels” (Japan economy, 2019, para. 4).

Indeed, Japan is one of the UAE’s most important export partners, and accounts for nearly 10% of its annual export trade (UAE economy, 2019). Likewise, Japan has become one of the largest economies in the world and its revenue levels are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has committed the Japanese government to improving the efficiency of the country’s oil and gas industries, and these initiatives are expected to further enhance ongoing economic development efforts. Against this backdrop, both the UAE and Japan have recognized the importance of establishing and strengthening bilateral relations, and these efforts expanded significantly over the past half century.

Some salient demographic and economic statistics for the UAE and Japan are set forth in Table 1 below to provide an overview of their current status.

Table 1

Salient demographic and economic statistics for the UAE and Japan








Muslim (official) 76%, Christian 9%, other (primarily Hindu and Buddhist, less than 5% of the population consists of Parsi, Baha'i, Druze, Sikh, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Dawoodi Bohra Muslim, and Jewish) 15%

Shintoism 70.4%, Buddhism 69.8%, Christianity 1.5%, other 6.9%. Note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people practice both Shintoism and Buddhism

Per capita GDP



Life expectancy

79.7 years

85.5 years

Unemployment rate




Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu


Source: CIA world factbook (2019) at

As can be readily seen from the breakdown in Table 1 above, while Japan has a far larger population compared to the UAE, both countries have comparable per capital GDP rates and both enjoy enviable longevity rates. In reality, though, this is where the similarities between the UAE and Japan largely end, making the historic evolution of the relations between these two countries especially interesting and these issues are discussed further below.

Historic evolution of the relations between the UAE and Japan

In reality, Japan’s relationship with the UAE predates the country’s actual founding in 1971. In sharp contrast to Japan’s millennia of existence, the UAE is a virtual newcomer on the global scene, but one which the Japanese leadership singled out from the outset as being a valuable trading partner, most especially to secure future supplies of oil and gas. Indeed, Japan was among the first movers to establish relations with the UAE (Garcia, 2015).
In this regard, the Japanese ambassador to Japan emphasized in 2016 that:

Japan and the UAE have always enjoyed an amicable relationship even before the formation of the UAE. The relationship started in the oil and gas sector more than 40 years ago. Since then, it has significantly expanded, diversified and multi-layered into many other sectors such as renewable energy, environment, education, science and technology, security, finance, tourism, and others. (Fujiki, 2016, para. 4).

In fact, fully 4 years prior to the formation of the UAE in 1971, Japan had already established economic relations with the emerging nation and three Japanese oil companies obtained concessions through an international tender by Abu Dhabi in its oilfields in 1967 (Mustafa, 2013). Given the burgeoning but still relatively weak nature of Japan’s economy at the time, these investments and effort to develop closer political and economic ties with the UAE were especially significant and clearly point to the goals and intents of the futurist views of the Japanese leadership during the 1960s and 1970s.

For instance, as early as the 1950s, Japan implemented a generous Official Development Assistance program which continued throughout…

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…is also important to note that the UAE and Japan are not global neighbors, but are rather located about 5,000 miles apart, meaning they are located halfway around the world from each other. This extreme distance makes exports from both countries more expensive, and more vulnerable to disruptions in commercial shipping lanes due to regional or global political unrest. Given the dismal track record of past attempts to forge a lasting peace in the Middle East, this issue represents a significant weak point in the ongoing efforts to forge even closer ties between the UAE and Japan.

Moreover, the political volatility in both of these regions could temporarily disrupt or even permanently halt international shipping through these transit points, thereby threatening economic stability of both Japan and the UAE. It is noteworthy, though, that Japan has increased its investments in naval power, launching two new aircraft carriers together with state-of-the-art combat aircraft in 2019, the first such vessels used by Japan since World War II (London & Wakatsuki, 2018). Although purportedly for defensive purposes only due to restrictions in the Japanese constitution, it is apparent that these vessels together with the rest of the modern Japanese navy are capable of defending commercial shipping lanes in their region if put to the test by China, Russia or Iran. Furthermore, the potential for a constitutional amendment in Japan that expands the nation’s authority to include specifically offensive weaponry in its arsenal may be on the horizon given the need for Japan to exercise greater responsibilities in its areas of control.

It is also noteworthy that the recent 2018 Trust Barometer poll found that UAE placed near the top of the countries surveyed in terms of the trustworthiness of various national institutions while Japan was ranked near the bottom (O’Leary, 2018). These recent global trust ratings indicate that the efforts by the UAE’s leadership are paying off by helping make the country a global business hub that attracts increasing numbers of foreign investors and international enterprises, but that Japan may need to revisit this area of international trade in order to remain competitive with emerging economies in their region as well as around the world.


The research showed that even as Japan was recovering from its devastation in World War II, the country’s leadership was carefully evaluating potential strategic partners in the Middle East that could help it with its growing energy needs. The research also showed that while Japan has sought improved relations with other countries in the Middle East, most especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, its primary focus has remained on developing strongly political, diplomatic and economic ties with the United Arab Emirates. Both of these countries have taken calculated steps to achieve such stronger ties, including exchanging greater numbers of diplomats with higher seniority levels who are authorized to conduct trade negotiations and identify additional opportunities for trade in areas besides oil and gas. Indeed, the research was also consistent in showing that trade between….....

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