(Unofficial translation)

photo (Foreign Minister Taro Aso)

Central Asia as a Corridor of Peace and Stability
Speech by Mr. Taro Aso, Minister for Foreign Affairs
at the Japan National Press Club

June 1, 2006

On June 5th I will have the pleasure of welcoming here to Tokyo those in charge of foreign affairs from the countries of Central Asia for the convening of a meeting under the "Central Asia plus Japan" initiative. Afghanistan will also be joining this meeting as a guest.

Today I would like to introduce our points of view so that you can understand what Japan is hoping to achieve in its relations with Central Asia.

Central Asia Itself Taking the Leading Role

If we go back to the 19th century we find that the interior part of Eurasia was where the interests of imperial Russia to the north and the British Empire to the south collided violently. The two great powers were engaged in a struggle for dominance from Afghanistan to the area that is now Central Asia in what has been referred to as the "Great Game."

Now, in the 21st century, you may well aware that some people say that another Great Game has begun.

The Central Asia region boasts an abundance of underground resources of petroleum and natural gas, gold, and uranium ore, among others, and it is home to an intricate web of concerns and interests from various sources of influence. Multiple overlapping regional organizations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, exist there, and since the events of 9-11, the situation in the region has taken on dimensions of even greater complexity.

It goes without saying, however, that we are not now in the age of imperialism. We cannot allow Central Asia to be tossed about by, or forced to submit to the interests of outside countries as a result of a "New Great Game." The leading role must be played by none other than the countries of Central Asia themselves.

This point I have just mentioned is the guiding philosophy that underpins Japan's foreign policy towards Central Asia-namely, that Japan wishes to cooperate with nation-building in the region based firmly on our recognition of "ownership" by the countries of Central Asia, who themselves constitute the main protagonists in determining their futures.

The Significance of Japanese Involvement in Central Asia

Yet you may wonder why it is that Japan has such a strong interest in Central Asia. I would like to present to you four major reasons for this.

The first of these is that, if you liken this to a chain, you can realize that if a single link is weak, it doesn't matter if the rest of the chain is sturdily constructed. It is the strength-or, more accurately, the weakness-of that single link that determines the strength of the entire chain, and this is essentially how Japan perceives this issue.

Japan is a country whose own prosperity depends on the stability and peace that exists around the globe as a whole. To bring us back to the metaphor of the chain, Japan has national interests in raising the degree of strength of the chain as a whole, even should the means be indirect. We cannot simply feign ignorance or indifference when we know that a weak link exists.

In that regard, in once again focusing on Central Asia and the surrounding region, we are cognizant of the instability found in the area stretching from the interior of Eurasia and Southwest Asia to the Middle East and Africa. The ethnic composition is extremely complex. The conflict of religions, and of sects and denominations within religions, that is present under the surface can be considered similar to volcanic magma, having the potential to erupt at any time. If that is the case, then naturally we hope to assist in adding a safety valve, in order to give some of the pressure from this magma a means of being safely shunted away.

Japan would like to improve access to transport for both goods and people, and in so doing enable the people of Central Asia to have a broader view of the world while making possible the envisioning of various long-range development prospects.

The countries of Central Asia have historically had a large number of secular Muslims. However, in recent years we have repeatedly been made aware of Islamic extremism permeating into the area from the south and the west.

In the battle to prevent terrorism, which uproots world order and stability, there is simply no way around the task of patiently going about strengthening weakest links.

The second reason why Japan pursues an active interest in this region is that Central Asia boasts a wealth of underground resources, centered on the area surrounding the Caspian Sea.

The production volume of crude oil in the region represents just over 2% of the world total. And, when a pipeline or other means of transporting the output is put into place in the future, production volume is forecast to double. Two percent of global production is equivalent to approximately 1.6 to 1.7 million barrels a day. If you consider the area surrounding the Caspian Sea including Azerbaijan, the production volume comes to some 2.0 million barrels a day. This is a volume equal to 30 to 40% of the amount of crude oil imported to Japan daily-hardly an amount that can be dismissed lightly. Furthermore, the region's annual production volume of natural gas of some 130 billion cubic meters is the equivalent of 1.6 times Japan's annual volume of imports.

Japan is not currently importing petroleum or natural gas directly from this region. However, petroleum and natural gas are international commodities, and there exists, fundamentally, a single market for each of these on the planet. The market has become integrated, with regional differentials among areas of production having been overcome.

In other words, the stability of Central Asia as a source of supply is essential to stability of the global market as a whole. Furthermore, insofar as Central Asian production would serve as a buffer should issues arise in the Middle East or within OPEC, it would simply be unacceptable for Japan not to take an interest in the situation of Central Asia.

What is more, gold is found in practically every country of Central Asia. Uzbekistan is the country with the greatest gold resources in the region, with a ranking of 9th in the world in production volume. Next comes Kyrgyzstan, ranked 17th. Japan is one of the world's major importers of gold bullion, importing some 80 tons annually as of 2004. You might want to keep in the back of your mind the fact that 6.7% of that-that is, just over five tons of it-came from Uzbekistan.

The third key point underlying our Central Asia policy is the fact that Central Asia and Japan have an affinity for each other, I would say.

If we look back over 19th and 20th century history, it is clear that the countries of Central Asia have the quite compelling view that they do not want to be pushed around by other countries any longer.

And, as I am always quick to point out, Japan's postwar reconstruction model has been one that can be summed up as "Peace and Happiness through Economic Prosperity and Democracy."
Even just in light of my own limited experience from what I have seen in Uzbekistan and elsewhere, I can say that the countries of Central Asia have strong interest in knowing how exactly this has become possible for Japan. There are many people who want to learn something from the experiences of Japan if possible. In other words, we already have a foundation for expanding our cooperation.

The fourth key point is that it is becoming modestly well-known around the world that Japan is seeking to have a more proactive relationship with Central Asia.

In the discussions that Japan holds with major countries it has already become somewhat a matter of course to address the topic of Central Asia. The Japanese side sometimes even encourages the other country in the discussion to become more interested in and involved with Central Asia. A new atmosphere is emerging, in which it is simply impossible to ignore Japan when you discuss Central Asia. I believe that such an atmosphere is conducive to enhancing both the breadth and the depth of Japan's diplomatic efforts.

Japan's Achievements to Date

In light of our recognition of these points, Japan has undertaken various efforts to date.

Among Japan's various achievements, the first aspect that I would like to touch on is that of ODA.

It was in 1991 that the countries of Central Asia became independent. Immediately after that, Japan started to provide assistance over a broad range of areas, ranging from education, health, and infrastructure development for roads, airports, electrical generating stations and more, to capacity building. Total assistance between then and fiscal year 2004 has come to some 280 billion yen. To put this into a broader comparative perspective, Japanese ODA comprises approximately 30% of all the ODA given to Central Asia by the major countries who are members of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.

A second aspect is that over the last 15 years, we have made our exchanges of visits by dignitaries and key senior officials more active. Economic relations have also progressed significantly, and our total trade figures now stand at seven times what they were 15 years ago. In addition, direct flights connecting Uzbekistan and Japan were launched in April 2001.

If we look back over time, under the "Diplomacy to the Silk Road Region" proposal set forth by then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1997, Japan promoted with each of the countries of Central Asia political dialogue, economic cooperation, and cooperation for peace. In retrospect, I believe that this has been meaningful in attaining these achievements.

The third achievement which we can cite is the initiative of the "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue, under which we will be convening this upcoming Foreign Ministers' meeting. This initiative was launched in August 2004, and of course the background to it was our common awareness of the heightening of the strategic importance of Central Asia, in the ways that I highlighted a few moments ago.

Through "Silk Road Diplomacy," Japan has endeavored to cultivate bilateral relations with each of the countries of Central Asia. The "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue should be considered as a multilateral gathering which is convened based on the foundations laid in these bilateral relationships.

The "Three Guidelines" Governing Japan's Diplomatic Relations with Central Asia

What I would like to touch upon next is what I would like to lay some extra emphasis on today, and that is what Japan should set forth as guidelines as it advances its foreign policy towards Central Asia.

Guideline 1: Approach the Region from a broad-based Perspective

First of all, Japan's foreign policy towards Central Asia will adopt a more broad-based perspective.

The reason for this is something that is perhaps quite obvious, but stability and development in Central Asia goes hand in hand with the stability and development of neighboring countries. They are inextricably linked. In particular, the three countries of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan share a border of more than 2000 kilometers with Afghanistan. The stability of Afghanistan ultimately rests with the stability of Central Asia-- and of course, the opposite is equally true.

In addition, in my earlier remarks about Japan contributing a "safety valve" to the "magma" of the region, I mentioned that Japan hopes to assist in enabling the people of Central Asia to have a broader outlook and to envision the possibilities that exist for long-term development.

In concrete terms, this involves bringing transport access for both people and goods to Central Asia from its neighboring countries. This means working to somehow get a "southern route" completed, linking Central Asia with the sea by means of a road stretching across Afghanistan.

Central Asia is of course landlocked, with no access to the sea. Access by both road and air is still at an early stage of development overall. So despite its wealth of resources it is currently not easy to transport these resources for export, significantly hindering Central Asia's independence in both the economic and the political realms.

This is where the "southern route" plays a role, and this is something that the countries of Central Asia themselves have expressed interest in. Japan is to launch cooperation in creating a road in Tajikistan to link it to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has what is known as a Ring Road, which is a major artery circling the country. However, it is in a state of extreme disrepair and therefore is unable to serve its role adequately. Japan has been making efforts to have this Ring Road reconstructed. If this is connected to the countries of Central Asia, it will surely have great significance as a roadway network.

Pakistan lies south of Afghanistan, and it will only be by going through Pakistan that this "southern route" to the sea will live up to its name and actually connect to the sea. Japan has for a long time been assisting with the construction of a highway within Pakistan that stretches from Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to the port town of Karachi.

As one more point here, there has also been a major project to share natural gas reserves with Southwest Asia. This would involve the laying of a pipeline starting in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan through to India. Discussions on this are still ongoing, but have not yet progressed to the point that this is certain to come to fruition.

And yet, if we consider this situation from a different perspective, we can say that just becoming possible for such a pipeline to be constructed securely represents in and of itself a target to be attained by the region as a whole. And when it finally becomes reality, the access that the pipeline provides will, along with the southern route to the sea, be for Central Asia a Corridor of Peace and Stability, exactly as the phrase implies.

Guideline 2: Support for "Open Regional Cooperation"

The second guideline I would like to point out is support for "Open Regional Cooperation."

The countries of Central Asia, besides having unfortunate geographic circumstances, were also forced during the Soviet era to specialize in particular fields assigned to them under the economic system of specialized production. To this day, this has been a drag on the countries of the region, and each individual country is quite fragile when taken as an independent economic unit. Without regional cooperation, with each country remaining in its own shell, the potential of the future would remain completely out of reach.

If we consider the size of these countries' economies, we see that Kazakhstan, which enjoys the largest economy in the region, had a total GDP in 2004 of US$40 billion. Even the combined economies of all five countries comes to only US$63 billion, bringing it in terms of a Japanese context to just barely the level of Mie Prefecture.

There can be no question that the building of an economy is best undertaken not by a single country acting alone, but through mutual cooperation. In looking at the problems of terrorism and drugs or the issues of the environment and water resources-issues in which cross-border efforts are considered essential to begin with-it is impossible to overstate the necessity of regional cooperation.

However, when we examine the current state of affairs, we find that it is easy to talk of cooperating with one's neighbors, but difficult to put into practice. Yet the countries involved recognize that nothing will be accomplished without cooperation with each other, and they are now at a stage in which they have begun searching for how to undertake such cooperation.

With the countries of the region now being at that particular stage, Japan at this juncture can become a supporter that enhances momentum towards open regional cooperation.

The main players are the countries of Central Asia themselves. Japan is merely a catalyst to the process. Japan hopes for a situation in which it can propose certain areas in which it is willing to cooperate; the Central Asian countries would then take that as an opportunity to enhance the ties and cooperation among themselves.

Japan has decided to interact with Central Asia in a spirit of full openness, reflected in, for example, its intention to coordinate with other major donor countries as well as international organizations in the area of ODA. Therefore, Japan hopes that other countries from outside the region also uphold the principles of openness and transparency. It should go without saying that in order for stability and prosperity in Central Asia, above all it will be important for the countries of the region to foster well-balanced relationships with countries outside the region.

Guideline 3: Seeking Partnership Rooted in Holding Universal Values in Common

As the third guideline, I would like to speak about how Japan wishes to share universal values with the countries of Central Asia, but rather than approach this topic abstractly, I would instead like to share with you a concrete example.

A legal specialist, commissioned by the independent administrative agency JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, has been working in Uzbekistan. In order to foster a true market economy, among the essential pieces of infrastructure for a country is the legal framework covering corporate bankruptcy. The specialist from Japan is assisting in writing commentary on how to interpret the new bankruptcy law, which Uzbekistan created through great efforts. This commentary is to reach practitioners such as judges and lawyers. We will, through the assistance of JICA, be convening a two-day seminar in July in the form of a television conference, linking Japan and Kyrgyzstan with the participation of this specialist.

In Kyrgyzstan too, it is said that 70% of corporations are effectively bankrupt. The topics thus will include bankruptcy, and what steps need to be taken in order to declare it. In addition, it will cover what can be done at the policy level in order to revitalize companies that have gone bankrupt.

These are the topics for this seminar.

These countries are coming to us saying that they would like us to give them input regarding Japan's experiences on issues that we had been wrestling long and hard with just very recently. I understand that on the Japanese side we have specialists from The Shoko Chukin Bank as well as from the Resolution and Collection Corporation, and the Industrial Revitalization Corporation of Japan in front of the TV cameras giving lectures to people from both the Kyrgyzstan State Committee on State Propertys' Bankrupcy Department and academia.

We can talk in terms of democracy, the market economy, the safeguarding of human rights, or the rule of law, but all of these begin through the compiling one by one of systems which have well-grounded processes and procedures, just like when you are building a stone wall.

One can say that assisting in these types of issues is a very modest task, but I feel great pride in what our specialists are doing. What we hope will result from this hard work in creating these systems is that a pattern for success finds root in Central Asia as well, with economic development fostering democracy, leading in turn to peace and happiness, just as it did in Japan over the course of so many years.

Japan will spare no efforts in giving assistance for these purposes. Indeed, I urge other countries from outside the Central Asian region who also share these values to continue to undertake steady cooperation.

Major Points of the Meeting to be Conducted under the "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue

Before I wrap up my remarks today, I will give you just a short overview of what will constitute the major points of our upcoming meeting to be conducted as part of the "Central Asia plus Japan" Dialogue.

At this meeting, Afghanistan will be participating in a guest capacity. You are already aware of the significance of this from my earlier remarks.

At this meeting, we will be adopting an action plan. Among the main pillars of this plan, the cornerstone is policies for the development of intra-regional cooperation, the significance of which I explained earlier in my address today. We are promoting measures which address very major issues for the region, with concrete examples including halting the proliferation of terrorism and drugs through improving border management capacities in the countries of Central Asia and in Afghanistan, and afforestation of the area surrounding the Aral Sea. We also expect topics for discussion to include general improvement in the environment for trade and investment and promotion of the "southern route" which I spoke of earlier.

In Conclusion

I have presented these key points to you today because I wanted you to have a basic understanding of Japan's foreign policy towards Central Asia. In closing, I would like to say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The policies and measures that will be necessary in the immediate future will all require patience and dedication. And yet what will emerge from that will be a major vision which will make Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Southwest Asia a "corridor of peace and stability," through our cooperation with the international community.

Thank you for your kind attention today.

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