Japan as no “other”: Decolonizing Alternative for Central Asia?
By: Timur Dadabaev
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.
By Stephen Blank
October 6, 2021, the CACI Analyst
The U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan should force American policymakers to rethink America’s position and goals in Central Asia. For years U.S. policy in Central Asia was subordinated to the goal of winning the war even though Washington never fashioned either a satisfactory definition of what winning meant or an Afghan government capable of standing on its own and acquiring the legitimacy and capacity it needed to survive. Despite a more regionally inclusive white paper by the Trump Administration, neither it nor its successor have been able to overcome the primacy of military factors in regional policy and the insufficiency of economic and political means to conduct a truly robust regional policy in Central Asia.
By Farkhod Tolipov
August 20, 2021, the CACI Analyst
In April 2021, Washington began the long-awaited withdrawal of its military forces from Afghanistan, a process that is expected to be completed by September this year. This is being done in the wake of an agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban as a condition for reaching peace in Afghanistan. However, the “victorious” Taliban began a sudden offensive in some northern provinces bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Afghan military surprisingly retreated instead of resisting the insurgents. Some even crossed the Afghan border with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. As the Taliban have swiftly moved to take control of most Afghanistan, including Kabul, Central Asia is facing strategic uncertainty.
By Richard Weitz
July 14, 2021, the CACI Analyst
A century ago, the Italian author Luigi Pirandello wrote a three-act play entitled “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” which explored the difficulty of differentiating between illusion and reality. The analyst of the recent border clash between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan faces the same challenge. The event, which saw the most serious fighting between independent Central Asian republics, offers several plausible explanations with divergent policy implications.
By S. Enders Wimbush
February 18, 2021, the CACI Analyst
Both Russia and the United States are advertising new strategies for dealing with Central Asia, but each is deficient in its own way. While Russia seeks to exclude Afghanistan from its vision of Central Asia, the U.S. explicitly and wisely incorporates Afghanistan as organic to its vision. Neither vision links Central Asia strategically to a larger Eurasian concept that embraces the South Caucasus. To the contrary, both explicitly (the Russian version) or implicitly (the American version) isolate Central Asia geopolitically from the larger emerging political, economic, and security dynamics that Central Asians themselves seek to encourage to establish their region as the connective tissue between Asia and Europe.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.