Europe & Central Asia

International Relations in regard to Central Asia

Photograph: Akitoshi IIo
Photograph: Akitoshi IIo

As to international relations, it is clear that Chinese influence over Central Asian region has been growing dramatically. China established the Shanghai-Five (Summit meeting except for Uzbek leader). This was replaced by the multilateral cooperation organization called ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)’ in 2001, which includes all five Central Asian states, China, and Russia. As the organization evolved, their focus shifted from demarcating the Russo-China border to strengthening cooperation in security areas such as anti-terrorism. Also, because China shares a border with the Xinjiang Uygur region, they have a vested interest in securing and stabilizing the region. Thus, Chinese aid to Central Asia has increased, especially in China’s neighboring countries such as Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, mostly in the form of grants and loans for construction and infrastructure such as roads and hospitals.

After the collapse of USSR, Russian influence over Central Asia declined in conjunction with its economic crisis. However, since the appearance of Vladimir Putin, Russia has paid more attention to the situation of Russian ethnic minorities in Central Asia, trying to keep its dignity as a suzerain state by establishing the Custom Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EurAsEC). Kazakhstan is in difficult situation because it shares not only 6467 kilometers of the border with Russia but also infrastructure such as electricity system and railway infrastructure (part of the Siberian railway goes through Kazakhstan’s territory). In addition, the Russians in the country accounts for about 23% of the country’s national population of around 17 million. Hence, Kazakhstan makes great effort to maintain its relationship with Russia.

Soon after the independence of Central Asian countries, Western attention turned to the democratization and human right issues in this area, but after the Andijan riot in May 2005, the relationship with Uzbekistan became distant. However, it now looks as though Uzbekistan recently has softened its attitude towards the West and handled the international politics sophisticatedly among foreign powers such as Russia and China.

Since September 11th, the US had been leasing Khanabad air force bases in Uzbekistan and Manas in Kyrgyz Republic, but because the relationship with Uzbekistan had deteriorated after the Andijan riot, the US Air Force withdrew from Khanabad in July of 2005. With Manas base’s closing in July 2014 after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, no US military is present in Central Asia today. On the other hand, Russian air force still remains in Kant air base. Moreover, Russia signed the agreement with Tajikistan for using military base in Tajikistan till 2042. The presence of Russian military in Tajikistan grows in order to defend former soviet border against the expansion of Islamic extremism.

After the beginning of Afghan conflict and deployment of ISAF in Afghanistan, routes from the Afghanistan to Central Asia gained the strategic importance as the ‘Northern Distribution Network (NDN)’, and the route from Termez in Uzbekistan to Northern Afghanistan plays an important role for transport (this is the same route by which the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979). Japan supported the project of the construction of a new railway called ‘Tashguzar-Kumkurgan New Railway Construction Project’ through a yen loan. Now, another project of electrification of the railroads to increase the capacity of transportation is under way. From this, it is obvious that Central Asia will have to play a key role as the most stable neighboring countries of Afghanistan. Therefore, the economic stability and security of Central Asia is one of the most important issues facing the international community today.


Authors: Study Group on Development in Central Asia and Caucasus Region

  • Naoki Nihei, Central Asia and the Caucasus Division, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
  • Akitoshi Iio, Ex-JICA ODA Loans Advisor (Central Asia Region)/Project Formulation Advisor, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ethiopia Office.
  • Ryota Saito, Ph.D. candidate of Graduate school of Humanities and Social sciences in University of Tsukuba.


Special Edition: Prospects of Japan’s Assistance for Central Asia

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