Encourage political and economic independence through steady support

Central Asia is sandwiched between China and Russia and is also an area of geopolitical importance with links to Europe and the Middle East. Japan needs to encourage each country’s political and economic independence with detailed assistance.

A meeting of the foreign ministers of Japan and five Central Asian countries was held in Tokyo. It was the ninth meeting since the dialogue framework was established in 2004, and for the first time that all foreign ministers from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan visited Japan.

This year marks the 30th anniversary since Japan and the five nations established diplomatic relations. Japan has provided official development assistance to help each country improve its agriculture, logistics and other systems.

The five countries became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is significant that Japan has long been engaged in dialogue with them to support their nation-building efforts.

“We aim to help Central Asian countries conduct balanced diplomacy,” Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a joint press conference after the meeting.

In Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which are rich in natural resources, are bolstering their national strength, while Kyrgyz and Tajikistan lack industry and rely on Russia. The five countries have also strengthened economic ties with neighboring China.

To prevent the five countries from becoming overly dependent on China and Russia, it is important for Japan to contribute to solving each of their challenges. There are quite a few authoritarian countries in Central Asia. Japan must persistently advocate the importance of democracy and the rule of law.

At the meeting of foreign ministers, a joint statement was adopted stating their commitment to “upholding the U.N. Charter and other international laws, particularly the principles of respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in mind.

The five countries have taken a position of consideration for Russia by abstaining from a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the nation, for example. On the other hand, Kazakhstan’s president in November called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the aggression.

It is noteworthy that the five countries, each with its own complicated situation, have taken a stance in the joint statement of effectively not recognizing Russia’s aggression.

Due to Russia’s economic slowdown, Kyrgyz and Uzbek migrant workers have reportedly been returning to their countries from Russia.

At the meeting, Hayashi said Japan would accept workers from Central Asia. The Japanese government intends to make use of the specified skilled worker system that allows foreigners to work in the construction and agricultural sectors.

It is said that there are many pro-Japanese citizens in the five countries, partly because of Japan’s efforts to focus on the development of their human resources. The Japanese government needs to quickly work out specific measures for that purpose.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 30, 2022)