--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 4 (2010/10/05)
EDITORIAL: Oil field diplomacy

A major turning point has come for the government's energy security policy. This policy has been based on the conviction that Japan needs to be actively involved in the development of oil fields overseas in order to secure a stable supply of energy for itself at home.

In a move symbolic of the shift, a government-affiliated Japanese oil company has decided to withdraw altogether from a project to develop the Azadegan oil field in southwestern Iran.

In 2004, the predecessor of Inpex Corp. acquired a 75-percent stake in the Iranian oil field, which is believed to be one of the biggest in the world, beating out European and Chinese competitors. As suspicions grew that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, however, Japan reduced its stake to 10 percent in 2006 in response to U.S. concerns about the Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Now, Tokyo has decided to pull out of the oil drilling project under intensified pressure from Washington, which is stepping up its sanctions against Iran.

The withdrawal from this oil project is an unfortunate but inevitable result of Iran's refusal to take convincing actions to ease international concerns about its nuclear program.

The importance of the Azadegan oil field for Japan's energy strategy has significantly decreased.

Given declining oil consumption at home and the growing trend toward a low-carbon society, it is important for Japan to make a levelheaded response to the situation and use the lessons from the experience for its future energy strategy.

Japan's efforts for energy security should now focus on becoming a member of an international network of countries that share information about oil through joint development projects and supply resources to each other.

This strategy requires Japan to use its energy-related technologies and funds to expand its cooperation with oil-producing countries.

It is also important to accelerate efforts to develop a wide variety of energy sources including natural gas and other renewable energies.

Only by continuing such efforts, can Japan find an effective way to help ensure that natural resource markets will perform their core functions properly in this age of globalization.

The grim geopolitical realities highlighted by the withdrawal demand that Japan redouble its efforts to revitalize its independent diplomacy in the Middle East.

Iran is the fourth-largest oil supplier for Japan, which has maintained a friendly relationship with the country even after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 led to the breakdown of Tehran's diplomatic relations with Washington.

But Japan's diplomacy has failed to exert any significant influence on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

This summer, the United States lodged no opposition to a Russian state-run nuclear power company's move to start operating a reactor in Iran.

In contrast, the U.S. administration has pressed Japan to abandon its involvement in the oil field development in Iran. This underscores the limitation of Japan's independent diplomacy.

Most of the rights in the Azadegan oil field that Japan has abandoned have been acquired by Chinese companies.

The United States, Russia and China, a relatively new diplomatic player in the region, are jockeying for influence in Iran. This diplomatic game is being played out across the Middle East.

Japan lacks the ability to pursue a national strategy in the Middle East like a major power. The sooner Tokyo acknowledges this reality, the sooner it can figure out what it can do by way of policy in the region.

It could serve Japan's diplomatic interest to put on a delicate balancing act from time to time to keep some distance in the region from U.S. diplomacy, which tends to be tilted toward strong-arm tactics including the deployment of armed forces.

Meanwhile, Japan needs to do more to build relations based on mutual trust with oil-producing countries through contributions in such areas as technological aid and social development.

Japan should not spare any effort to become a country that is needed in the Middle East.

by kiyoshimat | 2010-10-06 07:00 | 英字新聞

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