Diplomatic Bluebook 2022

Chapter 2

Japan's Foreign Policy by Region

2 Countries in Central Asia and Caucasus, etc.

(1) Overview

Countries in Central Asia and Caucasus are situated in a location of geopolitical importance that connects East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Russia, and have abundant natural resources such as oil, natural gas and uranium. Stability of the region as a whole, including Central Asia and Caucasus, has significant importance in addressing key challenges that the international community faces such as fighting against terrorism and countering illicit drugs. Japan continues to work to strengthen bilateral ties with these countries through high level talks and will be continuing initiatives to promote regional cooperation using the framework of the “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue.

In 2021, the spread of COVID-19 continued in Central Asia and Caucasus countries, and while it affected travel, high-level bilateral exchanges were actively conducted, including through the use of online formats. Under these circumstances, 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Central Asian and Caucasus countries, and momentum is building for further strengthening of relations.

(2) Central Asian Countries

The countries of Central Asia, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their independence in 2021, are partners in maintaining and strengthening a free and open international order, and Japan is promoting diplomacy aimed at contributing to peace and stability in Central Asia. From January to February 2022, Prime Minister Kishida and Foreign Minister Hayashi exchanged congratulatory messages with the leaders and foreign ministers of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

In the framework of the “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue5, the 6th Expert Meeting (clean energy) was held in March, where working-level experts from the five Central Asian countries and Japan exchanged views. In June, the 14th Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) was held online, where the five Central Asian countries and Japan discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in the region. At the SOM, officials affirmed the results of cooperation between Japan and the five Central Asian countries in the areas of health, economy, and environment (clean energy) since the Foreign Ministers' Special Video Conference Meeting of the “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue in August 2020, and agreed to proceed with preparatory work for the next Foreign Ministers' Meeting.

The diplomatic role of the Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, particularly Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, has become more prominent following the Taliban's control of Afghanistan in August. In October, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov of the Republic of Uzbekistan and Rashid Meredov, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, visited Kabul, respectively. Both countries are engaged in dialogue with the Taliban with a view to ensuring border stability and strengthening energy, railway and other connectivity areas with South Asia. By contrast, Tajikistan takes a cautious approach to dialogue with the Taliban.

Japan provided emergency humanitarian assistance to the Central Asian countries to prepare for the influx of refugees due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan since August, while continuing to support the strengthening of border management capabilities in these countries. In August, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Nakanishi Satoshi visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where he met with Shakhrat Nuryshev, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, while in Uzbekistan he met with Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, and First Deputy Chairman of the Senate in Uzbekistan Sadik Safaev. In both visits, he exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan as well.

In Uzbekistan, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has pursued reforms over the past five years, was reelected in the October presidential election. In relations with Japan, Japan has actively pursued high-level political dialogue, including a January video conference meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Aso Taro and Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov, and a summit telephone call between Prime Minister Suga and President Mirziyoyev in May. During the summit telephone call, Prime Minister Suga stated that Uzbekistan is an important partner for building a free and open international order based on the rule of law and welcomed deepened and expanded strategic partnership between the two countries. President Mirziyoyev stated that he would steadily implement all the agreements made during his visit to Japan in December 2019.

In Kazakhstan, a state of emergency was declared in January 2022 after rallies sparked by protests over fuel price hikes spread across the country and became radicalized. Kazakhstan requested assistance from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Peacekeeping Forces led by Russian troops were dispatched, after which the situation subsided. The upheaval led to the resignation of first President Nursultan Nazarbayev from the presidency of the Security Council and acceleration of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's efforts at large-scale domestic reforms. In May 2021, a summit telephone call with Japan was held between Prime Minister Suga and President Tokayev. The two leaders shared the view to further enhance the strategic partnership relationship between the two countries, touching on cooperation in a wide range of areas, including politics and the economy. In May, Speaker of the House of Representatives Oshima Tadamori held an online meeting with Nurlan Nigmatulin, Speaker of the Kazakh Parliament's Lower House.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, a new government was formed by President Sadyr Japarov, who won the presidential election in January, and presidential powers were strengthened through constitutional amendments in May. In November, the Kyrgyz Republic re-held the parliamentary elections that were invalidated following the political upheaval in 2020, and pro-government parties won a majority of seats in parliament. Regarding relations with Japan, Prime Minister Kishida and President Japarov held a brief meeting during the 26th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in November, during which President Japarov expressed his gratitude for Japan's support, including human resources development.

In relations with Tajikistan, Japan held political consultations in an online meeting in March. Both sides discussed a wide range of topics, including cooperation in the areas of human resources development and enhanced border control, and shared the view to further promote good relations between the two countries.

Regarding relations with Turkmenistan, Prime Minister Suga and President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held a summit telephone call in May in which both leaders welcomed the development of bilateral economic relations, with the realization of many major projects involving Japanese companies. Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Berdymukhamedov attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and held a meeting with Prime Minister Suga.

In recent years, efforts toward advancing regional cooperation have become active among Central Asian and neighboring countries. In 2021, leaders of Central Asian countries attended a variety of online and hybrid meetings that included the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Summits both held in May and October, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Summit held in September, and the Organization of Turkic States held in November.

In addition, there are active foreign minister-level meetings with one country added to the five Central Asian countries. In 2021, the five Central Asia countries held foreign ministers' meetings with the U.S., the EU, China, Russia, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Italy, and India respectively.

  • 5 Japan launched the “Central Asia plus Japan” Dialogue framework in 2004 as a precursor to the “Five Central Asia Countries plus One country” format dialogue from the perspective that regional cooperation for solving common regional issues is indispensable for the stability and development of Central Asia, with Japan as a “catalyst” to promote regional cooperation. In addition to the seven foreign ministers' meetings, various discussions have been held with the participation of experts and businesspersons. More than 15 years have passed since its establishment, and in recent years it has focused on practical cooperation.

(3) Caucasus Countries

The Caucasus region has a potential to be a gateway connecting Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and geopolitical importance that directly affects the peace and stability of the international community. However, there are still outstanding issues such as in Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. Japan is developing its diplomacy based on the basic policy for this region, which is comprised of two pillars announced in the Caucasus Initiative in 2018: (1) assistance for human resources development for state building (human resources development) and (2) assistance for paving the way to “Appealing Caucasus” (infrastructure development and business environment improvement).

With regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the ceasefire agreement reached by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia in November 2020 has generally been observed, but sporadic gunfights have occurred along the border areas of Azerbaijan and Armenia since then. Meanwhile, there have been efforts toward dialogue through the mediation of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and Russia, including a meeting of Azerbaijan and Armenia's foreign ministers and a summit meeting. Japan hopes that the outstanding issues related to the conflict between the two countries will be resolved peacefully based on principles of international law through dialogue, including the OSCE Minsk Group.

In relations with Azerbaijan, Foreign Minister Motegi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeyhun Bayramov held a telephone call in August. The ministers exchanged views on international cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 and shared the view to further develop bilateral relations on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2022.

Regarding relations with Armenia, President Armen Sarkissian, who visited Japan in July to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 , held a summit meeting with Prime Minister Suga where the two leaders shared the view to deepen cooperation in economic areas, including IT, while valuing the historical ties between the two countries. Domestic politics in Armenia became fluid following the military conflict with Azerbaijan in the fall of 2020, and elections to the National Assembly were held ahead of schedule in June. As a result, incumbent Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was re-elected.

Georgia is an important partner in building a free and open international order based on the rule of law. In economic areas, the Japan-Georgia Investment Agreement and the Tax Convention between Japan and Georgia came into effect in July. In addition, in October, a program inviting Natela Turnava, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia to Japan in an online format was held where she met with Japanese businesspersons and officials. Besides, at the political consultations held online in November, both sides exchanged viewson a wide range of topics, including decarbonization and international affairs.

(4) Republic of Belarus

While the massive protests that erupted after the August 2020 presidential election gradually died down due to strict controls by authorities, the human rights situation continued to deteriorate, with large-scale searches of independent media and NGOs and the detention of those involved.

On May 23, 2021, a commercial aircraft flying over Belarus was forced to land at Minsk Airport, and the independent journalists on board were detained. Western countries strongly condemned the incident and took measures such as not allowing Belarusian aircraft to board or to fly over their countries. Japan also took measures in the aviation sector.

Since the summer, the number of people crossing the border from Belarus into neighboring Poland, Lithuania and Latvia has increased sharply compared to previous years. This has been the case especially since November, with those attempting to cross into the Schengen area massing in the border region between Belarus and Poland. The situation became tense, with the Polish side closing checkpoints in the area and mobilizing its military as a precaution. In response, Japan, along with the G7 nations, issued a statement by the G7 foreign ministers condemning the Belarusian regime's attempts at irregular migration. Japan also contributed 500,000 US dollars in emergency grant aid to conduct humanitarian and medical assistance through the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In addition to the worsening human rights situation, the conflict between Belarus and western countries has deepened further with the forced landing of a commercial aircraft and the detention of journalists, as well as the rapid increase in the number of people crossing the border through Belarus. Japan has issued two foreign press secretary statements on the situation in Belarus and has strongly urged the authorities of Belarus to immediately cease the arbitrary detention and forceful oppression of citizens, engage in national dialogue that respects the principles of the rule of law and democracy, and make an earnest effort in responding to the situation.

In 2022, amidst increasing tensions in the area along the Ukrainian border due to the buildup of Russian troops and other factors, Belarus began joint military exercises with Russia on February 10, and supported Russia by letting them use its own territory during the Russian aggression against of Ukraine that began on February 24. Japan has strongly condemned Belarus. In light of Belarus' obvious involvement in this aggression, on March 3 and 8, Japan decided to impose sanctions on Belarus, including sanctions against President Lukashenko and other individuals and entities, as well as export control measures.

Courtesy call by Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Nakanishi Satoshi to Sardor Umurzakov, Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan (August 28, Uzbekistan)Courtesy call by Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Nakanishi Satoshi to Sardor Umurzakov, Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan (August 28, Uzbekistan)
Japan-Armenia summit meeting (July 24, Tokyo; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)Japan-Armenia summit meeting
(July 24, Tokyo; Photo: Cabinet Public Relations Office)