Tokyo Continues to Successfully Engage Central Asia
Whether it is the Japanese spring festival celebration in Kazakhstan, Japanese modern technologies being sold to Uzbekistan’s chemical industry as the country looks to expand its economy and boost employment, or Japanese grant assistance funding the March 2019 reopening of three kindergartens in the Kyrgyz Republic, the “Central Asia plus Japan” dialogue action plan (CAJDAP) has proven a positive move for inter-regional cooperation.
The CAJDAP was originally launched by then Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as a political initiative between Japan and some of the Central Asian states. To promote the CAJDAP’s framework through various forms of multilateral cooperation, the following five pillars were adopted as part of the Dialogue’s formal launch in August 2004: political dialogue, intraregional cooperation, business promotion, intellectual dialogue, and cultural and human exchanges. However, it was not until a meeting in Tokyo June 5, 2006, where Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan built a consensus regarding Central Asia’s stability and development, and agreed to hold further meetings of their foreign ministers—placing an emphasis on open cooperation between all parties1. Since its first meeting in 2004, there have been five additional meetings among the foreign ministers, and thirteen meetings of senior officials.
The most recent of these meetings was the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) November 26, 2018. The stated goal was to increase countries’ efforts to boost tourism, but with participants ultimately agreeing to speed up the deliberation between foreign ministers on tangible cooperation. Tajikistan has confirmed it will host next the next Ministerial meeting. Although concrete results will be expected of the succeeding meeting, there has already been success in the region in the tourism sector. Kazakhstan has opened its doors to allow visa-free travel for Japanese tourists since 2014. Uzbekistan also abolished visas for Japanese tourists in 2018, and the country now boasts a 43 percent surge from the same periods in 2018 to 2017.
Russian media outlet Sputnik, however, has tried to sow skepticism about the future of Japan’s relations with Central Asia. Sputnik has claimed the CAJDAP has failed to bring about significant success in developing cooperation in energy and infrastructure development—the initiative’s primary stated objective when founded in 2004—and further claims Tokyo continues to lack any strategy towards the region. Though there are examples that note changes in CAJDAP’s purpose and direction in its first couple of years, the second claim has a sliver of merit. While commercial and other factors are no doubt at play, Tokyo has increasingly worked about the direction of Chinese policies and actions in recent years. American engagement in the region is, therefore, something Japan would welcome. Chinese relations, As of this time, any claim that Japanese-Central Asian relations are dwindling seem to be all but a farce. We can expect Japanese engagement in Central Asia, particularly on the commercial side of the equation, to continue as it has done over the past decade.
1 Turkmenistan has maintained its policy of neutrality and chooses to participate only as an observer