I am writing this column in Tokyo, where Arab News has just launched its Japan edition. The launch took place on the eve of the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito in a ceremony attended by Saudi Minister of State Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, and of the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 Business Forum.
The forum was attended by high-level delegates from both countries: Saudi Commerce and Investment Minister Majid Al-Qasabi and Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, along with representatives from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA); and Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Norikazu Suzuki, and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara. Twelve agreements were signed in the fields of education, science, technology, and banking and finance.
As Al-Qasabi rightly pointed out during the forum, Japan is one of Saudi Arabia’s most important economic partners, and a wide range of businesses from the two countries have a strong track record of working together. “The forum reflects the success and strength of this enduring partnership,” the minister said, explaining that the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030 was established two years ago to drive and facilitate private-sector involvement by establishing joint ventures between entities in the two countries.
Saudi Arabia believes its future prosperity depends on fostering even closer ties with its strategic partners around the world, Al-Qasabi said, and the Kingdom looks forward to welcoming Japanese companies as they participate in the historic transformation of the Saudi economy. “Japan has been a credible and reliable partner,” he said.
This significant business forum comes at an interesting time for the two countries, as they search for new opportunities: Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030 is opening up a number of sectors to foreign investment, the most recent being entertainment and tourism. Japan is among the 49 countries whose citizens no longer require a traditional Saudi entry visa, and can obtain a visa upon arrival.
From Japan’s point of view, Tokyo is eager to secure the foreign tranche of the Saudi Aramco IPO. While nothing has been confirmed, with a total capitalization of $3.5 trillion the Tokyo Stock Exchange would have no difficulty accommodating such a massive share sale; it proved its ability to handle large IPOs with the $23.5 billion SoftBank flotation last December, the second-biggest ever.
The Japanese business community is witnessing — and has been among the first to reap — the benefits of Saudi Vision 2030, as the Kingdom leaps forward in its ranking for competitiveness and ease of doing business. According to the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum, Saudi Arabia has moved up three positions to 36th place globally, thanks to the Kingdom’s efforts to diversify its economy.
As Saudi Arabia prepares for its annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh, of which Japan is sure to be a vital part, we should also remember that relations between our two countries extend far beyond business. This was emphasized by my good friend, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, during the Arab News Japan launch on Monday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “We share common values,” he said. “We both have great respect for the old, and we both think that family values are the most important. We are friends, and I think we need to work together.”
The cooperation between the two countries is particularly significant because both are undergoing key structural changes to promote and reshape their economies. Our shared desire is to seek a more sustainable and dynamic economy, creating a healthy society and improving the well-being of both peoples.
It is worth repeating here that Japan commands immense respect in the Arab world for having literally risen from the ashes after the Second World War. The country’s success is particularly laudable because it achieved that great success despite not being rich in natural resources, and despite having been completely destroyed in that conflict. It has since become one of the world’s largest economies, and it has done so by adhering to its traditions and values. As we in Saudi Arabia open up, modernize and reform, I am sure there is a great deal we can learn from Japan’s template of success.
As for Japan hosting Arab News, all we can say is: “Domo arigato gozaimashita” — thank you very much.