The relationship between the UAE and Japan has been special right from the beginning. Japan is among the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with the UAE in 1971. The UAE Embassy in Tokyo was inaugurated in December 1973 and the Japanese Embassy in Abu Dhabi in April 1974.
The UAE and Japan, in fact, enjoy strong bilateral economic relations dating back to 1961 when the first shipment of UAE crude oil was exported from Umm al-Shaif offshore field in Abu Dhabi to Japan.
In recent years, trade between the two countries has grown with figures showing that Japan exported goods to the UAE to the approximate value of $7.9 billion while the country imported goods from the UAE to the approximate value of $27.5 billion in 2018.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Economy, the total value of non-oil trade between the UAE and Japan reached Dhs481.34 billion over the past ten years from 2009 to 2019.
In this background, the official visit to the country of Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, is bound to further bolster the already-strong ties, which have been strengthening on multiple fronts, including trade, energy, investment, technology, space and education.
In 2016, the number of Japanese citizens living in the UAE totalled 4,000, while hundreds of Emirati citizens are in Japan for educational and investment purposes.
Japan is the UAE’s top trade partner in the world. Japanese investments and advanced technologies have played a key role in supporting the UAE’s development, especially in advanced technology, renewable energy, aviation and healthcare.
The UAE is Japan’s No.2 oil supplier, providing, by September 2019, around 29.9 per cent of Japan’s total oil imports. In 2018, Japan acquired a 40-year oil concession in Abu Dhabi.
On the tourism front, the number of Japanese tourists visiting the UAE totalled 91,000 while the number of Emirati citizens visiting Japan for tourism significantly increased, especially after Japan exempted them from having to obtain pre-entry visas on July 1, 2017.
The co-operation is strong in the field of education too. In 1978, the first Japanese school was inaugurated in the UAE, and in 2009, it began teaching the Arabic language, Islamic education and social studies to Emirati students, along with its Japanese curriculum.
Also, over 100 Emirati students are studying in Japanese universities for bachelors, masters and PhD degrees, especially in engineering and information technology.
Notable also is the fact that the two nations are closely cooperating in space sciences. In October 2018, the Emirati satellite, “KhalifaSat,” was launched into outer space from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan aboard an H-IIA rocket.
The signing of the UAE-Japan Strategic Energy Cooperation Agreement between the Abu Dhabi Supreme Petroleum Council, represented by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, ADNOC, and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of Japan, for the storage of over 8 million barrels of crude oil at storage facilities in Japan is another significant development.
The agreement extends and expands the previous strategic crude oil storage agreement between the two nations that expired at the end of 2019.
Japan is ADNOC’s largest international importer of oil and gas products with approximately 25% of its crude oil imported from the UAE.
As Shinzo Abe himself aptly pointed out, 2020 is going to be a historic year for the UAE and Japan as the former will host EXPO 2020 Dubai, while the latter will play host to Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.