A rare earth plant that is a joint venture between Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. and Kazakhstan’s state-owned Kazatomprom opened in Kazakhstan last week. In an email interview, Timur Dadabaev, an expert on Central Asia at Tsukuba University in Japan, discussed Japanese relations with Central Asia.
WPR: What is the recent history of Japan's diplomatic and trade relations with Central Asia?
Timur Dadabaev: Japanese engagement in Central Asia has evolved from former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s 1990s-era Eurasian diplomacy toward the formation of the current Central Asia Plus Japan (CAJ) initiative. Hashimoto’s policy of engagement was continued by his successor, Keizo Obuchi. The Junichiro Koizumi administration, in office 2001-2006, attempted to change certain patterns in Japan’s involvement in the region, which materialized in the CAJ initiative, announced in 2004. The distinctive features and competitive advantages of this initiative include encouraging Central Asian regional integration and enhancing the capacities of these countries to address regional problems through regional means. For the Japanese side, this provided the framework to advance Japanese political and economic interests, especially in energy-resource development in the region. In 2006-2007 as foreign affairs minister, and in 2008-2009 as prime minister, Taro Aso supported these moves further through the concept of “Central Asia as a Corridor of Peace and Stability.”