Pakistan FM’s Visit To Japan: What Is At Stake?

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Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited Japan on July 1-4, in a period characterized by rapid geopolitical developments and rising tensions. He is the first Pakistani foreign minister to visit Japan in four years, indicating a renewed emphasis on strengthening diplomatic ties and promoting economic collaboration between the two countries.

According to a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement, Bhutto Zardari’s visit “signals the revival of leadership level contacts with Japan after a considerable hiatus. This is a big step toward boosting ties between Japan and Pakistan, with substantial implications for both nations and the future of the Asia-Pacific region. Pakistan’s foreign minister met with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, business executives, and civil society groups during his travel. The sessions centered on enhancing bilateral trade and economic cooperation, as well as exploring prospects for collaboration in technology, innovation, and education.

The visit of Pakistan’s foreign minister to Japan has the potential to drastically change regional affairs. For one thing, it might signal the beginnings of long-term strategic collaboration between Pakistan and Japan, with implications for the Asia-Pacific region’s power dynamics. Japan hopes to oppose China’s influence in Pakistan, while Islamabad seeks to undermine Tokyo’s historically close relations with New Delhi. While Bhutto Zardari’s visit to Japan laid the groundwork for a new chapter in Japan-Pakistan relations, both countries must build on this momentum and turn their promises into tangible outcomes. Pakistan has attempted to strike a delicate balance between relations with its all-weather ally China and adversary Japan. Tokyo has always had connections with Islamabad and has provided financial assistance to the nation. However, Japan’s connection with India has developed rapidly in recent years, while Pakistan has found greater comfort in the arms of China. Bilawal’s visit to Japan is expected to assist preserve the balance in relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

Major Takeaways

Bhutto Zardari remarked after meeting with Hayashi, “We have agreed to further deepen and exchange our mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in areas of trade, investment, human resource development, information technology, tourism, and agriculture.

The visit of Pakistan’s foreign minister to Japan highlights the rising importance of Japan-Pakistan ties in the changing global order. The two countries’ relations stretch back to 1952. Japan has offered considerable economic help to Pakistan since then, contributing to various development initiatives and supporting in poverty eradication. During his journey, Bhutto Zardari held fruitful meetings on a wide range of issues, including commerce, investment, and regional security. The two foreign ministers agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in sectors such as science and technology, agriculture, and disaster assistance.

A key highlight of the visit was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the formation of a Joint Government-Business Dialogue with the goal of boosting trade and investment between the two nations. Recognizing the importance of human resource exchanges, Bhutto Zardari met with top officials and executives from major corporations and organizations involved in the import of Pakistani labor to Japan. Pakistan and Japan’s economic complementarities were wide and diverse and by building on each other’s strengths, they could create a win-win situation, resulting in shared prosperity and progress.

As a developing country confronted with serious economic and environmental challenges, Pakistan simply does not have time for the Cold War-style bloc politics that appear to be resurfacing. These exchanges are intended to promote labor migration cooperation and create extra opportunities for Pakistani employees to contribute to the Japanese economy at a time when Japan’s own population – and labor force – is falling owing to low birth rates. In an important milestone, Japan recently pledged $2.25 million in human resource development funds to Pakistan. The initiative would allow Pakistani officials to further their studies in Japan, therefore strengthening educational ties between the two countries. Aside from that, Bhutto Zardari and his Japanese colleagues addressed potential collaboration prospects in the field of renewable energy, an area in which Japan has emerged as a worldwide leader. With Pakistan’s energy crisis worsening, investments in renewable energy projects might help the country meet its electricity demands while reducing its dependency on fossil fuels. This would also aid worldwide efforts to combat climate change.

Why this Visit is Significant?

The visit coincides with a shift in Asia’s geopolitical environment. As China-US rivalry grows, nations like Pakistan want to diversify their alliances and connections in order to preserve strategic balance. From this perspective, Japan, as the world’s third-largest economy and a key regional actor, is an ideal partner for Pakistan. If Japan hopes to counter Chinese influence in Pakistan, Islamabad hopes to offset Japan’s traditionally close relations with India, Japan’s Indo-Pacific partner, and Pakistan’s primary competitor, this can create a new opportunity for both of these nations.

Tokyo has always had connections with Islamabad and has provided financial assistance to the nation. However, Japan’s connection with India has developed rapidly in recent years, while Pakistan has found greater comfort in the arms of China. This is a big step toward boosting ties between Japan and Pakistan, with substantial implications for both nations and the future of the Asia-Pacific region. Bhutto Zardari’s visit to Japan was a diplomatic watershed moment for Pakistan, which is attempting to strengthen bilateral ties with a key Asia-Pacific actor.

A robust friendship between Pakistan and Japan might also act as a check on China’s growing power but it will create concern for New Delhi. This will offer Pakistan greater power in contact with China and allow it to pursue a balanced foreign policy. Though the long-term implications of this visit will depend on how far Pakistan and Japan can build on the momentum created, it is clear that this visit signals the beginning of a new chapter in Asia’s regional relations.

This approach is in line with Pakistan’s overarching goal of expanding its diplomatic and economic baskets beyond its traditional partners. During his visit, Bhutto Zardari emphasized the need for a peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific region for world peace and development. Both Japan and Pakistan are worried about the prospect of regional instability, and both have highlighted the significance of dialogue and collaboration in resolving mutual issues. Pakistan has a unique role in developing regional connectivity and ensuring the security of important trade routes due to its strategic location at the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

On the flip side, Japan, as a major maritime power, has a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation and the security of communication sea lanes. In this context, the two nations talked about methods to improve marine security cooperation, such as joint training exercises and information exchange. This might help to build trust between the two countries while also addressing similar security challenges such as piracy and terrorism. As a major player in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan can contribute to efforts to promote regional peace and stability. The visit of Bhutto Zardari provided a chance to discuss the situation in Afghanistan as well as the larger South Asian security landscape. Japan’s support for peace and reconciliation measures in Afghanistan, as well as its will to assist in the reconstruction of the war-torn country, can help to maintain regional stability.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Eurasia Review [Link]