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

By: Timur Dadabaev

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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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The Pentagon's Central Asian Gambit: Putting Russia Back in the Game?

The recent reports about the Russian offer and American consideration of the hypothetical deployment of the American troops on Russian military bases in Central Asia attracted significant attention. This Forum will discuss this probability and potential implications of this discussion.

When: Wednesday, October 13, 2021, 11:30-noon AM EST


 
Published in Forums & Events

Some Bright Spots on a Darkened Sky: Central Asia and Afghanistan Today

This forum event was conducted in the format of an interview with Dr. S. Frederick Starr, reflecting on his recent trip to Central Asia. 

Interviewer:

Mamuka Tsereteli, Senior Fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at American Foreign Policy Council

When: Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The event was livestreamed on the CACI Facebook page and is now available on YouTube.

 
Published in Forums & Events

S. Frederick Starr & Michael Doran

Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2021

American forces have left Afghanistan. Now what? President Biden has yet to settle on the outlines of an approach. What should the U.S. seek to achieve? Who are its partners?

As he mulls these questions, the president should take note of a July 16 conference, hosted by the government of Uzbekistan in Tashkent, on the subject of “regional connectivity.” The Uzbeks and their Central Asian neighbors, including Afghanistan, seek international diplomatic and economic support for new transport and infrastructure projects to connect their region with South and Southeast Asia.

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Published in Staff Publications

S. Frederick Starr & Eldor Aripov 

The National Interest, July 9, 2021

For many in the West and worldwide, the five countries of Central Asia remain a mystery, and their role in world affairs unknown. Yet through their own efforts, they have now emerged as a world region, with its own needs and possibilities. It is time for Washington and the world to embrace this reality and focus on ways that region can contribute to regional and global stability. 

The process of regionalization in Central Asia was launched in 2017 at a high-level international conference in Samarkand. Initiated by the President of Uzbekistan, it received support from all Central Asian countries. Together, they resolved to strengthen cooperation and resolve controversial issues on the basis of compromise. Their resulting communique led to a special resolution by the UN General Assembly. Over the following years, this process became a stable trend and the region a geopolitical reality.

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