It‘s Not Only China: Japan and Korea‘s Growing Roles in Central Asia
Japan and the Republic of Korea have important, long-standing relations with Central Asia that could be developed further to yield political as well as economic benefits. These relations are not always given the attention they are due, including by Washington, but this situation ought to be rectified for several reasons. In addition to the fact that both South Korea and Japan are leading world economies with the capacity to support Central Asia’s development, both are also close treaty allies of the United States sharing many of Washington’s concerns about the evolving global geostrategic picture. This reality can be especially important given China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy in Central Asia, the growing unease among Central Asian publics over Chinese actions and intentions, and the shifts in Central Asia and the Greater Caspian region that may come with the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.
East Asian countries are accelerating their involvement in Central Asian affairs as they compete with one another to assert a role in the region and to address issues closer to home. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is certainly a prime leitmotif in the thinking in Central Asian, Washington, and other capitals’ thinking about the region. However,
in recent years both Japan and South Korea have boosted their presence in the region through cultural exchange programs, investments and other business engagement, high- level visits, and enhanced trade agreements. Thus, even if most public and policy-maker attention regarding East Asia and its present and potential role in the five Central Asian republics seems focused on the Belt and Road Initiative and other Chinese activities, greater attention should be given to South Korea and Japan and their potential role in the goals of stability, economic growth, and protecting the sovereignty and independence of Central Asian states.