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Foreign Minister Bilawal’s Visit to Japan

Image Credit: PM’s Office of Japan
Foreign Minister Bilawal’s Visit to Japan

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Mr Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, undertook a four-day trip to Japan from 1-4 July 2023. According to the Foreign Office, the Foreign Minister’s visit signals a revival of leadership-level contacts with Japan, after a four-year hiatus, with the last such visit taking place in 2019, when the then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood undertook a similar trip.

The Foreign Minister held a delegation-level meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, on 3 July. Representatives from both sides agreed on the need to boost bilateral cooperation in multiple fields, including trade, investment, information technology, tourism, human resource development, and agriculture. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed for the formation of a Joint Government-Business Dialogue, which will further encourage trade and investment between the two countries, was a major achievement of the Foreign Minister’s visit. The MoU aims to develop cooperation and identify new prospects, leading to economic progress and job creation for both countries. Mr Bilawal thanked his Japanese counterpart for the support extended by his country to Pakistan during the devastating floods of last year. The two ministers also discussed the undertaking of Japanese language assessment tests to help facilitate the movement of skilled labour from Pakistan to Japan.

Mr Bilawal also stated that opportunities were being explored to develop specific programmes like solarisation, desalination and water purification. The first of these can be extremely helpful to Pakistan as it can lead to easing the country’s current and increasing power crisis. Japan, a world leader in renewable energy, is ideally suited to help Pakistan in this regard, as it aims to meet its target of producing 36-38% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed for the formation of a Joint Government-Business Dialogue, which will further encourage trade and investment between the two countries, was a major achievement of the Foreign Minister’s visit.

After the meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr Bilawal called upon the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida. During the meeting, both leaders expressed the desire to enhance engagement and cooperation between the two countries. While speaking at the Asian Development Bank Institute, the Foreign Minister stated that Pakistan does not have time for cold war-styled bloc politics and rather prefers to focus on providing jobs for its population, two-thirds of which is below the age of 30. He also stated that the best way to do this was by leveraging the location of Pakistan as a crossroads between Central and South Asia.

The day before he met with Japanese officials, Mr Bilawal met with the Pakistani diaspora in Tokyo. The meeting attendees came from different fields, and he urged them all, with a special emphasis on the businessmen, to do all they could to boost trade and investment between Pakistan and Japan. The Foreign Minister also told the gathering that the government was working towards bringing forth prosperity for the country via economic diplomacy. He also had meetings with some Japanese business executives and representatives from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japan External Trade Organisation. Like all his other meetings, these also focused on how trade between the two countries could increase.

Relations between Pakistan and Japan date back to 1952, and since the establishment of ties, Japan has helped Pakistan with multiple development projects and poverty alleviation. And just last month, the Japanese government extended an assistance grant of around ¥315 million for the human resource development of Pakistani officials in Japanese universities. According to both sides involved, this would lead to more meaningful cooperation going forward.

Currently, the geopolitical outlook of Asia is shifting in China’s favour. This creates a problem for Japan and increases its need to counter China’s influence. Japan being a regional power and the third largest economy, would want to invest in Pakistan, if not to balance China’s influence, then to ensure that Pakistan does not go fully into China’s camp. Japan is also interested in preserving freedom of navigation and the security of the sea lines of communications. That is why Pakistan and Japan also discussed means of building up marine security cooperation. The two states can undertake meaningful cooperation in this regard as Pakistan is situated at a crossroads of the sea lines of communication between South Asia and the Middle East, with there being a serious issue of piracy around the waters of the Middle East.

On the home front, Mr Bilawal, with this and his multiple other visits to countries across the world, is building up his credentials for when the time comes when he can contest the election for the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He can use his efforts abroad made for the betterment of the country and its economy in the upcoming election to gain votes for himself and his party.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali

Syed Zulfiqar Ali has completed his Masters in Defence & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, and is currently serving as a Research Associate at the Centre of Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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