Japan deepens economic ties with Central Asia

ASTANA: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to deepen economic cooperation with energy-rich Kazakhstan, completing his first visit to Central Asia as China’s influence predominates in the region.

Abe wrapped up his whistlestop first tour of ex-Soviet Central Asia in the Kazakh capital Astana, saying Kazakhstan was a “precious partner” in a region where Tokyo’s arch-rival China is investing heavily.

“Both Japan’s public bodies and private sector will be providing support to economic reforms in Kazakhstan,” Abe said following a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Abe also said Japan would help build a multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plant in the country of 17 million.

Abe began his first Central Asian tour in major gas exporter Turkmenistan on October 23, signing deals worth $18 billion in the reclusive country’s chemicals and construction sectors.

In neighboring Uzbekistan on Sunday, Abe signed agreements worth $8.5 billion in the energy, transportation and communications sectors.

The Japanese leader also visited Central Asia’s two poorest countries, promising more than $100 million in aid to Kyrgyzstan and a smaller sum to Tajikistan.

Japan is one of several Asian countries to have courted the region, which remains dominated by China’s economic influence and Russia’s political heritage.

Other Asian leaders to have completed Central Asian tours this year include Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian leader Narendra Modi.

There are fears that militancy from conflict-torn Afghanistan, which borders three Central Asian states, could spill over into the region.