Qatar and Japan: Looking beyond energy
Japan recently celebrated 40 years of diplomatic relations with Qatar and Kenjiro Monji, Ambassador of Japan to Qatar emphasised efforts on both sides to step up non-hydrocarbon components in the bilateral relations and complement it with efforts at humanitarian cooperation
Trade figures do give an essence to bilateral relations, but that clearly is just one aspect of the relationship. None agrees more with this than Kenjiro Monji, Japan’s Ambassador to Qatar. Monji does talk to us about celebrating Girl’s Day (which is celebrated every year on March 3 and is marked by displaying dolls which began in the Edo period and started as a way of warding off evil spirits, with the dolls acting as a charm) but he also tells The Edge about the the place of energy in the relations between Japan and Qatar. Monji is emphatic about the Qatar Friendship Fund, something which started off with the direct involvement of HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and something that has already rolled out projects in Japan.
Commenting on energy and its place in the matrix of bilateral relationship, Monji says, “Energy constitutes one main pillar of relations between Japan and Qatar.” He mentions that Japan has been the biggest trading partner of Qatar and the total volume of trade between the two countries reached USD37 billion (QAR134.68 billion) in 2012. “Qatar has been a major supplier of energy to Japan and its importance is increasing,” he adds, “Actually, Japan imported about 16 million tonnes of LNG from Qatar in 2012, which is the double of Japan’s 2010 import just before the great east Japan Earthquake, making Qatar our second largest LNG supplier, almost tying with Australia, each with a share of 18 percent.” Monji reiterates that Qatar is the third largest supplier of oil to Japan with a share of 12 percent.
In the context of the fact that Qatar is fast diversifying its economy to a knowledge-based one, there will be an impact on the way Qatar relates to other countries, primarily those like Japan that have a prominent energy component.
Monji is convinced that Japanese companies can contribute to the diversification of the Qatari economy with their technologies, experience and expertise.
He says that he is sure that human resource development is most important area to the diversification of the Qatari economy. “It is quite obvious that HH the Emir is stressing the importance of human development, which is the first of the four pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030,” adding, “I understand that the development of Japan has been based on its human resources. Japanese companies have been inviting many Qatari technical and administrative staff to Japan under training programmes, which are an effective framework to foster a qualified young generation that would be capable of taking charge of the future of Qatar.”
As for human resource development, Monji is of the view that Japan can share its own experience in the area of education, science and technologies, culture and sports, which are now considered as Japan’s soft power.
Monji adds that the two governments confirmed their intentions to work towards diversifying their economic relations on various occasions including the annual joint economic committee meetings.
Commenting on the aspects of Qatar-Japan relations that stand out when compared with other GCC countries, Monji says, “Japan enjoys good relations with all GCC countries, and Japan-Qatar relations are also based on trust and friendship.”
Monji adds that Japan has contributed greatly to the development of Qatar, especially in the area of liquefied natural gas (LNG) since the 1990s. Chubu Electric, a Japanese company, made a long-term LNG sales and purchase contract and both public and private sectors of Japan participated in the projects by financing, investing, building the plants and shipping the products, etcetera. “In fact,” Monji says, “the Qatari leadership never forgets these instances and appreciates Japan for its contribution. And Qatar was one of the first countries to extend help to Japan after the disaster of March 11, 2011, and its contribution was among the largest in the world – something for which the Japanese are very thankful.”
Qatar Friendship Fund
Relations between countries take shape from the intentions of its leaders, and Qatar and Japan have the highest degree of support from the respective leaderships, one instance being the Qatar Friendship Fund.
Talking to The Edge on the fund, Monji elaborates that the Qatar Friendship Fund was established by the contribution of USD100 million (QAR364 million) on the initiative of HH the Emir to support various reconstruction projects.
“The first mega project under the QFF was the Fishery Processing Center in the town of Onagawa in the devastated area which was inaugurated in October last year. Six other projects are already implemented or in progress.”
Japan Cooperation Forum
In 2012, the 37th Japan Cooperation Forum for the Middle East took place in Doha. Talking of the achievements of the forum, Monji says, “Top Japanese business leaders, intellectuals, Japanese ambassadors to the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries, high ranking Japanese government officials and Japanese business representatives residing in the region participated in the forum. The number of participants was estimated to be around 300. It was the first time that the forum was held in Qatar. HE Abdullah Hamad bin Al Attiyah, president of the Administrative Control and Transparency Authority was a guest of honour and made the opening speech.”
“I am telling the Japanese companies that those gigantic projects in Qatar are not mere plans on paper under the long-term vision, but real projects that must be implemented before the FIFA World Cup 2022.”
Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and bilateral investment have been points of interest for both Qatar and Japan. Commenting on this, Monji says that Japan values the importance of the FTA with Qatar. “The FTA negotiations between Japan and the GCC started in 2006. We understand that the GCC has been conducting a review of its FTA policy since the summer of 2009. Japan is awaiting its outcome and hopes to resume the negotiation as soon as possible. Japan hopes to further promote investment in order to strengthen the economic relationship between the two countries.”
Spending on infrastructure will be very high in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. In that context, what kind of participation by Japanese companies does Monji foresee?
He says that he has been encouraging Japanese companies to actively take part in the large-scale infrastructure projects towards the FIFA World Cup 2022, such as railway, metro, stadiums, bay crossing and other associated projects. “I am telling the Japanese companies that those gigantic projects in Qatar are not mere plans on paper under the long-term vision, but real projects that must be implemented before the FIFA World Cup 2022. And, in addition to the technology, expertise and experience that I mentioned earlier, the reliability of the Japanese companies to observe the difficult terms and condition at all times should be highly appreciated.”