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November 18, 2017

A call for unity in Central Asia

I was invited to take part in International Conference on Security and Sustainable Development in Central Asia", which took place in Samarkand 10-11 October. It was a large meeting, and is worth being remembered, because Uzbekistan's president Mr. Mirziyoyev in his address floated an idea for Central Asian summit meeting.

My own speech (personal. nothing official) happened to coincide with his idea. Hereby I publish it.

Japan's Role in Regional Cooperation in Central Asia
-in the Light of the ASEAN's Example-

Former Ambassador of Japan in Uzbekistan

Thank you very much, Fred, for your kind introduction of me.Unfortunately I am sandwiched between British-English and American-English speakers, but I am sure that my authentic Japanese English would be even more understandable to the audience.

Ladies and gentelmen,
Today not may people in Central Asia talk about Japan.But Japan used to make an important contribution in facilitating the unity and collaboration among Central Asian countries. And Japan even now is at disposal of these countries.

Indeed, one may safely say that promotion of regional unity in Central
Asia has been the mainstay of Japan's policy in this region.Why? You may ask. And I would answer it is out of political calculations. The thing is that while the trade and investment relations between Japan and Central Asia stay at a low level, Central Asia can be an important political component in Japan's foreign policy. Namely, being located between China and Russia, Central Asia may become a meaningful partner in keeping balance with China and Russia, if the region stays independent and prosperous.
With this in mind Japan had proposed to launch a new forum "Central Asia and Japan" in 2004, thereafter conducting meeting of foreign ministers six times already. In proceeding with this, Japan held in mind three unwritten principles.

1) Promotion of independence and ecconomic growth in Central Asia is compatible with Japan's interest
2) Japan can become a "neutralizer" for Central Asia to avoid overdependence on a single power
3) Japan is not a regime changer, but believes that Japan's help in economic development will eventrually bring modernization of the society.

Further, when we designed the "Central Asia plus Japan" forum, we imagined that OCAC (Organization for Central Asian Cooperation) may well become Japan's counterpart.But shortly after the launching of the "Cenral Asia plus Japan" in September 2004, the OCAC was merged into Eurasian Economic Union. Therefore, one may say that the torch of Central Asian regional collaboration has since been maintained by the "Central Asia plus Japan", and the ensuing "EU-Central Asia Ministerial Meeting"and "C5+1 (Central Asia plus the USA)".

Today we heard remarks of President Mirziyoyev about starting Central Asian leaders' consultative meetings. I am very happy to see that the new Uzbekistan is ready for a more intensive regional collaboration; only with the entire Central Asia in its back each Central Asian republic can elevate its own status in the world. Now is the time to restore something like the OCAC.

For future "OCAC 2.0" there are models for reference, though one does not have to loyally imitate one or other foreign model; foreign models should only be studied to draft one's own design based on its own needs and conditions.

One of the models which we had in mind in promoting "Central Asia plus Japan" was the ASEAN .Twenty years ago most of the ASEAN countries, especially in rural areas, looked really backward. Today their capitals are so modern that we cannot distinguish them from London or Tokyo.ASEAN's aggregate GDP (2.4 trillion dollars in 2013) is twice as large as Russia's GDP, and with their developed industry they constitute an indivisible part of the economic symbiosis, which East Asian countries, the US and the EU constitute. Namely, Japan produces components for electronic goods and automobiles, and exports them with machineries to assemble them to ASEAN countries (today Thailand is one of the largest producers of automobiles in the world), South Korea and China. Foreign and local companies assemble them and sell them in the local markets, or export them to the US, EU and Japan.The US pays for them in dollar, and the East Asian countries invest dollar revenue back in the US, which boosts the US economy only to further increase import from the East Asia.

How did the ASEAN countries achieved this status? I have no intention to overblow Japan's role, but one cannot deny that Japan's construction of infrastructure (ports, railways, telephone networks and so on) in ASEAN countries after 1970s, using its soft loans, worked as inducement of foreign FDI. Japanese, American and European companies gradually built their factories in ASEAN countries, using the modern infrastructure.

ASEAN was first established in 1967 as an amorphous body, which was mainly designed as a bulwark against communist (at that time) Vietnam's onslaught, and later developed into a solid organization for political and economic cooperation with its own secretariat. Meanwhile, the member countries have agreed to lower mutual import tariffs to 0-5% (AFTA), and in 2015 it launched "ASEAN Economic Community". They intend to launch "ASEAN Security Community" by 2020.

But it is striking that they are not over-ambitious about integration; the ASEAN Economic Community does not even have a common tariffs for outsiders, mutual recognition of standards is limited, free travels are limited to business people, and no common currency is foreseen.

However, even this amorphous and loose body can produce a substantial political effect. When they pretend to speak in one voice, big powers are not able to impose their will on ASEAN countries.

The same thing could occur with Central Asian countries, and indeed I feel good omen for Central Asia. Just like in ASEAN countries Japan has done fairly a lot in infrastructure building in Central Asia, in Uzbekistan above all, offering long-term and low-interest-rate loans.I can name among many projects the railway which leads to Afghanistan, laying of optic fiber network, construction of several modern power stations, modernization of vocational schools and railway wagon repair factory.

On top of its own soft loans Japan has several other "outlets" of its financial resources. For example ADB (Asian Development Bank) has been building infrastructures under CAREC program (Central
Asian Regional Economic Cooperation). Since 2001 it has given 10.5 billion dollars of loans. And only recently it has pledged to finance further 5 billion dollars for infrastructure building in Central Asia for coming three years.

Ladies and gentlemen,
There is another, rather ironical, contribution; Japan has become a catalyst of other countries' involvement in Central Asia. Everytime when Japan does something in Central Asia, some countries want to surpass what Japan has done. And this is OK for Japan, because if their help strengthens Central Asia, it goes along with Japan's afore-mentioned intention, that is support of sovereignty and stability of the Central Asian countries. In this vein Japan would not refuse engaging in joint projects with AIIB or Russia, for example. Anyway, what is most important should be the well-being of the Central Asian people.
Thank you for attention.


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