Exceptional ties with Japan

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 6 Sep 2023

Nearly four months after upgrading Egyptian-Japanese relations to a “strategic partnership” during Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s visit to Cairo in late April, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi paid his first ever official visit to Cairo on Monday.

Shoukri with Hayashi
Shoukri with Hayashi


“These relations stem from a historical friendship that has now evolved into a ‘strategic partnership,’ making Egypt the first African country to reach this level of relationship with Japan,” Hayashi said in an interview with the daily Al-Ahram.

Hayashi’s three-day visit aimed to address boosting bilateral relations across various fields, according to the Japanese Embassy in Cairo.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Japanese counterpart exchanged their countries’ stand on various regional and international issues, including the Palestinian cause, the Sudanese, Libyan and Yemeni files, and the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on developing countries. Shoukri spoke during a joint press conference held Tuesday afternoon.

Hayashi indicated that one of the key reasons for his trip to Egypt was to attend the third Japan-Arab political dialogue scheduled to be held during his visit. Moreover, as Egypt currently presides over the Arab League, he stated that he looks forward to holding discussions with Arab foreign ministers regarding further development and enhancement of relations between Japan and Arab countries.

“When we look at the Middle East and Africa region, we note that while the peace process in the Middle East, and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere persist, there are new movements towards solidarity and cooperation, such as the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” Hayashi said in the Al-Ahram interview.

“I believe that the relationship between Japan and the Arab world should also evolve as there is room for Japan and the Arab world to develop a ‘partnership’ in which they collaborate in various areas such as the economy, peace, and maritime security.” 

During the upcoming Japan-Arab political dialogue, he said he would present Japan’s vision for future multilateral relations.

Additionally, the first trilateral meeting between Japan, Egypt and Jordan at the ministerial level is also scheduled during the visit.

Egypt and Jordan, the Japanese minister said, are essential players for achieving peace and stability in the region, especially in the Middle East peace process, and have long-lasting friendships with Japan.

Shoukri said that he and his Japanese counterpart aspire that the upcoming session of the joint Strategic Dialogue, scheduled in December in Tokyo, would discuss thoroughly how to make the best use of this partnership to benefit the peoples of both countries. 

The resumption by Egypt’s national carrier EgyptAir of direct flights between the two capitals on 14 September was a move that Shoukri described as one of the major steps for enhancing relations.

“We aspire to such a resumption step to boost the Japanese tourist flow to Egypt,” he said during the presser.

Egypt’s top diplomat also welcomed the resumption of Japanese investments in Egypt and said he aims to encourage Japanese private sector companies to inject more investments into the available promising sectors.

During the press conference, Hayashi said his country plans to increase the value of trade and investments with Egypt.

Foreign Japanese direct investment to Egypt in 2022 doubled from the previous year’s level to $71.7 million, according to Hayashi. 

The volume of trade between Egypt and Japan reached over $1 billion in 2022, according to previous statements by Egypt’s Minister of Trade and Industry Ahmed Samir.

Hayashi said Japan supports Egypt’s economic and social reform, offering assistance in addressing the challenges and issues it faces with the aim of achieving stability and development in the broader Middle East and Africa region as a whole.

Shoukri expressed gratitude for the Japanese engagement in supporting Egypt’s national development projects.

One, he said, is the Japanese collaboration in constructing the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), to be inaugurated later this year and which Hayashi described as a new “symbol of cooperation” between the two countries.

Japan has provided nearly 84 billion yen (nearly $568.9 million), more than half of the total construction cost of the GEM, through the Japanese yen-based Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme. Moreover, Japanese and Egyptian experts are working hand in hand to preserve and restore the artefacts of King Tutankhamen and other valuable discoveries that are gradually being unearthed and which will be displayed in the museum, he said.

Furthermore, through the cooperation between the two countries, efforts are currently underway to preserve and restore the Solar Boat which was discovered near the Khufu Pyramid and which is expected to be one of the main exhibits in the GEM, he said.

Additionally, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has increased its support for various development projects in Egypt.

In July, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi approved a $307.68 million loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to implement the first phase of Cairo metro’s fourth line.

In March, Japan and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) signed a $3.8 million grant to support the Egyptian government’s efforts to boost food security by increasing water-use productivity in agriculture and resilience to climate change.

In February, Egypt and JICA signed a $336 million development financing agreement to support the country’s Universal Health Insurance System (UHIS) over seven years.

JICA’s website states that the loan will aid in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Good Health and Well-being, and Reduced Inequalities.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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