The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center is proud to present a new series of analysis on the changing geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

In recent years, a peculiar shift has appeared to happen: on one hand, there is a widespread perception of a decrease in U.S. attention toward this region.  On the other, there is an equally perceptible uptick in the attention by other regional powers. Powers as diverse as Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey have expanded their relations with countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to be the most influential powers in the region, but it remains unclear whether their relationship in the region is one of partnership, competition, or both.

Against this background, the Joint Center resolved to look anew at the region's geopolitics. It will do so both by looking from the outside into the region, through studies of the policies of outside powers; and from the inside out, by studying also the perspectives of nations in the Caucasus and Central Asia toward their geopolitical context.

The articles in this series are published as Feature Articles in the Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst and mirrored on this page for convenience.

 

2111-FT-China-CoverA Steadily Tightening Embrace: China's Ascent in Central Asia and the Caucasus
By Raffello Pantucci
November 18, 2021

Chinese engagement with Central Asia and the Caucasus has been on a steady ascent. China accords considerably more importance to Central Asia than to the Caucasus, and the absolutely central aspect of Chinese engagement is Xinjiang. Still, the economic push into Central Asia has continued, in spite of a slowdown in investment lately. Among outside powers, Russia is the only power that Beijing considers a genuine competitor, and even then that relationship is seen through the lens of cooperation at the larger, strategic level. China does faces challenges in Central Asia: one is the refocusing by various militant groups that now treat China as an adversary. Another is the risk that Beijing may inadvertently clash with Moscow’s interests in the region.

 

 

 

2110-FT-CoverJapan as No "Other:" Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?
By Timur Dadabaev
October 13, 2021

Japan has been one of the first and most consistent partners of Central Asian (Central Asia) states in supporting their nationbuilding and regionalism. It was also the first country to propose the concept of the Silk Road to build interconnectedness and open partnerships for regional states. In this sense, the Japanese presence in the Central Asia region represents an engagement for diversifying and decolonizing Central Asia states’ relations with international partners. While Japan has been active through its ODA policy in the region, recent years demonstrate how Japan attempts to reconceptualize its engagement in Central Asia by promoting international partnerships with the EU to utilize mutual strengths to dynamize the EU and the Japanese presence in Central Asia. Through regional and bilateral connections, Japan is attempting to empower these regional states while also changing its own approaches to international cooperation.

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Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?

By: Timur Dadabaev

2110-FT-Cover

Over the past 30 years, the Japanese approach to Central Asia has been to secure the Japanese presence in the region by offering Central Asian nations an additional option of an international partner among traditional choices, such as Russia, and, in most recent history, China. The schemes offered to facilitate engagement between Japan and Central Asia were vibrant and diverse, reflecting the changing realities of the Central Asian region and the changing role and perception of the “self” in Japan. (1)  As is well documented in previous studies, the search for engagement schemes started with the 1996 Obuchi mission to Azerbaijan and Central Asia, spearheaded by the Member of Parliament and later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, which produced a strong endorsement of wider engagement of Japan in the region. It resulted in P.M. Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1997 Eurasian/Silk Road Diplomacy speech, in which the concept of the Silk Road was first used as a geopolitical concept, embracing Central Asian states, China, Russia and Japan in an imagined net of interdependence(3).  While the administrations of P.M. Obuchi (1998-1999) and P.M. Yoshirō Mori (1999-2000) did not proactively engage with the Central Asia region, it was P.M. Junichiro Koizumi’s administration (2001-2006) that aimed to aggressively shake up the Japanese approach to this region by announcing the Central Asia + Japan Dialogue Forum, a set of annual inter-ministerial and high-level talks to support Central Asian regional integration and to facilitate a larger corporate presence for Japanese corporate interests, in the face of growing Chinese and Russian pressures. The particular importance of the Central Asia + Japan forum is that it offered an alternative option of a distant yet powerful external economic partner to the region, which did not display a neo-colonizing tendency or strive for domination, as was widely feared regarding China and Russia.(3)

Most recently, PM Shinzo Abe (2013-2020) attempted to further dynamize Central Asia-Japan relations when he visited all Central Asian states and lobbied for larger participation of Japanese corporations in Central Asia. In his approach to strengthening Japanese competitiveness, PM Abe introduced the notion of high-quality infrastructure by arguing that Japanese infrastructure projects based on high-quality and sustainability standards(4) offer more sustainable and reliable alternatives (as compared to Chinese projects, for example) for developing countries inclusive of Central Asia states.

Visions of the Region and Japanese Foreign Policy
In approaching Central Asia, the Japanese government utilizes both multilateral and bilateral channels, which include extending its support to individual state-building efforts and encouraging regional cooperation through Central Asia + Japan, as described above. In doing so, the Japanese government aims to display a certain degree of sensitivity toward disparities between regional states while facilitating long-term regional consolidation in light of growing pressures by other large players, such as China and Russia. In this sense, Japanese support for Central Asian states can be likened to Japanese support for nation- and regional-building in the ASEAN region.

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 Read at The National Interest

 By S. Frederick Starr

With respect to Afghanistan, the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and the major international financial institutions are all caught in a time warp. Dating back a century and a half, this distortion today impedes Afghanistan’s development as a normal country. No less, it helps isolate the other countries of Central Asia from a nearby major market, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and pushes the other countries of Central Asia into a one-sided relationship with their former imperial overlord, Russia. It’s time to correct this long-standing mistake.

Published in Staff Publications

By Christopher Len, Uyama Tomohiko, Hirose Tetsuya (Eds.)

December 2008

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