Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on his historic days-long tour of the five countries of Central Asia with a small army of businessmen, banking officials and academics in tow.
This is the first time a Japanese leader has taken all the region’s countries, as well as Mongolia, in a single visit — a clear signal of intent to expand Tokyo’s presence in an area increasingly dominated by the rival economy of China.
Energy was at the top of Abe’s agenda, as suggested by the sealing of $18 billion in deals in Turkmenistan on October 23.
“We have signed documents on a range of projects in the chemical industry and for the construction of electrical generation plants for a total value of $18 billion,” Abe told reporters in Ashgabat.
Those projects include development on the huge Galkynysh natural gas field, building of power stations in the east of the country and polyethylene and propylene production plants, according to Turkmen officials.
The agreements will see Japanese companies like JGC Corporation, Mitsubishi, Chiyoda Corporation and Sojitz Corporation collective investing around $10 billion in Galkynysh, which is estimated to possibly hold 21.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Meanwhile, Sumimoto Corporation has received a $300 million order to complete gas-fired power plants with a 400 Megawatt capacity.
Large dollars figures were also flung about with abandon on October 25 in Uzbekistan, where the two countries signed off on $8.5 billion worth of deal.
According to Uzbekistan’s presidential website, Japanese investment will be primarily targeted at modernization of energy and transportation infrastructure, developing mineral resources, automobile construction, the oil, gas and chemical industries, and telecommunications.
Reuters reports that one of the projects “will see Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation explore new hydrocarbon reserves jointly with Uzbek state oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz.”
Abe and President Islam Karimov also signed an agreement pledging deeper strategic partnership, which is something that may have been noted with disquiet in Moscow and Beijing alike. Learning from its previous policy of overly favoring ties with one or other particularly nation, Uzbekistan appears to be trying to spread its friendship as broadly as possible.
The more resource-poor countries in the region, meanwhile, looked most eager to secure handouts.
Japan granted Tajikistan 900 million yen ($7.4 million) in aid to be focused on developing agriculture and other infrastructure projects. In particular, Japan will help Tajikistan to fight the locusts and implement a project on restoring the flow of fresh water to the Panj district in the often drought-stricken Khatlon region.
Abe and President Emomali Rakhmon also signed a deal on a scientific exchange between the Tajik State Institute of Foreign Languages and Japan’s University of Tsukuba.
In an interview granted to AKIpress on the eve of his October 26 visit to Kyrgyzstan, Abe said that he was looking to build on a relationship built on friendship and trust.
Pressed on which particular areas were promising for investment, however, Abe spoke of Kyrgyzstan’s abundant water and its traditional livestock, dairy and agriculture sector, so real breakthroughs look limited there.
The tour of Central Asia concludes on October 27, when Abe flies to Kazakhstan.