Europe & Central Asia

Perspectives – Japan’s Roles in Central Asia

Photograph: Naoki Nihei
Photograph: Naoki Nihei

This article has overviewed the level of development and engagement by the international community in Central Asia. Having covered these issues, it is incumbent upon Japan to proactively pursue direct economic benefits such as energy resources but also to develop ways of pursuing indirect economic benefits such as economic growth and stabilization in Central Asia that can be mutually shared with Afghanistan and with whole Eurasia region.

Among the OECD DAC countries, Japan is the one of the only countries that has the regional platform ‘Central Asia plus Japan’ to promote regional cooperation in Central Asia. These days Russia and China have expanded their influence over Central Asia through SCO and the Customs Union, but many people in Central Asian countries expect Japan’s more extensive engagement in this region. Japan is expected to play a crucial role as a facilitator to advance the relationships not only between Japan and Central Asia but also among Central Asian countries. In the past, dialogues consisted only of Japan and Central Asian countries, but at the ‘Central Asian plus Japan’ Tokyo Dialogue (Intellectual Dialogue) organized in Tokyo in March 2015, researchers from Russia and US were also invited. We, contributors of this article, expect that under the participations of diverse stakeholders the ‘Central Asia plus Japan’ should be able to expand more meaningfully.

We think it necessary Japan should continuously participate in the successful regional platform, CAREC, organized by ADB, to promote regional cooperation. Additionally collaboration with international organization such as UNDP is also necessary to tackle transboundary issues such as disaster risk reduction and border control.

As to the assistance, we, contributors of this article, suggest the support to energy development, electricity, and transport for acceleration of industrial development of upper middle-income countries, especially in Turkmenistan where the need for diversification of gas exportation through the Indian Sea is very high. In addition, future elimination of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran and the extension of traffic route connecting Central Asia to the Persian Gulf through Turkmenistan and Iran will drastically change not only Central Asia but also the entire Eurasia region. In terms of infrastructure, Japan should make efforts to continue aid applying Japan’s high technology that aligns with Prime Minister Abe’s idea of ‘high-quality infrastructure development’ as Japan already accomplished through past ODA projects in Uzbekistan creating efficient high energy gas turbines for power stations and railroad bridges..

Japan should continue its support not only for infrastructure but also for human resource development in Central Asia. Human resource development has become an increasingly important issue, providing for future political transformation and regime change of this region. This type of approach and its outcome will dramatically improve the governance of new regimes and governments. As the result of the education system and infrastructure established during the Soviet era, literacy rates in all of the five Central Asian countries are significantly over 90%, a fact that stands out among developing countries. However, the education system in Central Asia still functions through an autocratic style, as it did in the Soviet era. In order to gain knowledge for dealing with problems in their home countries, many students in Central Asia desire to obtain opportunities to study abroad not only in Russia but also other countries. Given the situation, to provide such opportunities to growing youth population in the area could be an important pre-investment for Japan by which future leaders are educated and Japan’s relationship with Central Asia is strengthened. Thus, Japan will be able to contribute to Central Asia’s mid and long-term assistance through accepting promising students from the area and providing the education to become future leaders according to the global standards in the 21st century.

We, contributors, wish that Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Central Asia in October will provide motivations and opportunities to strengthen Japan’s dedication to ‘Value Oriented Diplomacy’ in the region and contribute to mutual interests through supporting ‘quality growth’ in Central Asia., Japan can take responsibility to lead aids and regional cooperation in the international community through ‘Central Asia plus Japan’. We expect that the visit by Prime Minister Abe will prove a turning point in Japan’s diplomatic strategy towards Central Asia that redefines Japan’s role in the region.


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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