Japan ready to compete with China in Central Asia

Japan ready to compete with China in Central Asia

On October 22nd Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe begins a six-day tour of Central Asia. This is the first visit by a Japanese government official in the region since 2006. It is expected that talks between the Japanese Prime Minister and leaders of the Central Asian countries will be mainly devoted to the energy issue. Japan intends to receive cooperation according to its formula of ‘technology in exchange for resources’ from other states of the region. Experts believe that this visit may become a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region, as well as help to boost Japan's role in Central Asia.

In Ashgabat, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to sign an agreement in order to develop the largest gas field, Galkynysh. The Mitsubishi Corporation, Chiyoda, Sojits, Itochu and JGC concluded a framework agreement on the improvement of the Galkynysh gas field with the State Corporation of Turkmengaz. The TAPI gas pipeline is to begin to be built there. It will connect four countries: Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is expected that Japan will invest about $10 billion in the project. Tokyo is ready to invest another $2 billion in the port of Turkmenbashi.

As Vestnik Kavkaza previously reported, Ashgabat announced the beginning of work on the construction of a transcontinental pipeline 1735 km long, transporting more than 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year. Ashgabat will build the 215 km part of the pipe that runs through the territory of Turkmenistan at its own expense. The head of the consortium TAPI Ltd - Turkmengaz will lead the project. According to Neutral Turkmenistan, experts of GC Turkmengaz carried out a series of technical and geological studies on the route of the future gas artery from the Galkynysh field to the border with Afghanistan. Local experts conducted a topographical survey of the 160-kilometer-section. Engineering and geotechnical investigations were carried out at a distance of 50 km of the route. Field works are to be completed in the area of ​​the Kara Kum Desert and that will be started in the highlands. "Participants of this project have come close to the beginning of its practical implementation: the laying of the pipeline," the Turkmen publication reports. 

The history of this gas project goes back to the early 1990’s, when many countries and oil companies were interested in the Caspian countries and their deposits of hydrocarbon resources. But then the project was not implemented for various reasons. Instability in Afghanistan was one of these reasons.

Today’s situation in Afghanistan is not in favor of Turkmenistan. It became known yesterday that the Taliban have attacked several checkpoints in the Afghani province of Faryab on the border with Turkmenistan, Khaama Press reports. According to Abdulbakiev Sayyid Hashimi, deputy of the legislative assembly of the province, a serious threat is posed to the district of Gormach. Its villages are coming under the control of extremists and foreign fighters one by one. He also pointed out that there are no public authorities. "Militants and foreign mercenaries appeared at the local market,’’ and natives of Turkmenistan were among them. "They control a sector of the Turkmen-Afghan border from the Bala Murghab district to Dowletabat,’’ Hashimi said.

Information about the escalation of Taliban forces was confirmed by the Turkmen service of Radio Liberty, a member of parliament from the Faryab Province of Afghanistan, Beshir Ahmed Tayanch. According to him, about 2000 militants are in the province of Faryab. The authorities have increased the security forces in the border area. Earlier, ethnic Turkmen in Afghanistan formed militia groups in order to fight the militants. He believes that this could be enough to stop the Taliban.

Turkmenistan is faced with threats of attacks by radicals of Afghanistan, and it will try to find support from the United States rather than rely on the Afghan security forces. Moreover, US President Barack Obama said that it is necessary to slow down the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. This announcement coincided with the visit of a Turkmen delegation headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Rashid Meredov in Washington. The topic of national security was discussed at the bilateral consultations. According to the press service of the US Department of State, the meeting was attended by Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Bisval. Blinken and Meredov discussed "various kinds of bilateral and regional issues." "The conversation with Gottemoeller was devoted to regional security and energy,’’ the press service of the US Department of State said.

According to the director of the Analytical Center of MGIMO, Andrey Kazantsev, we can assume that there are preliminary agreements: Japan receives the field of Galkynish and begins construction of TAPI, which was always in the interests of the USA. In particular, Greater Central Asia is part of the American project. Its main idea is cooperation between the region AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) and Central Asia in order to contribute to the economic stabilization of AfPak. The Americans will receive the military airfield Mary-2, as they wanted, and give security guarantees to Turkmenistan. This liaison between the US geopolitical interests and the Japanese economic interests is not a new thing. It can be observed in Asia quite often. "Both the visit of Japanese Prime Minister to the region, and plans for TAPI, and the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov to the United States, as well as the recent statement of the Turkmen Ministry of Foreign Affairs to President Nursultan Nazarbayev (indirectly Russian President Vladimir Putin) are in favor of the version that everything is fine on the Turkmen-Afghan border, and there is no need to speak about any threats. It is reasonable to assume that Ashgabat has let Russia and Kazakhstan understand not to interfere in Turkmen affairs, as Ashgabat intends to negotiate with the West, " Andrey Kazantsev said in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.

However, according the expert, this combination is most likely doomed to failure. We will see it during the coming years. "Firstly, the situation in northern Afghanistan, and specifically on the Turkmen-Afghan border, is that they won’t succeed in building the TAPI. They need to conduct a massive operation to restore order in northern Afghanistan. Taking into account the fact that the Americans are gradually reducing their presence in Afghanistan and the number of the Afghan and Turkmen armies, it is clear that their combat capability is not enough. So who will carry out this operation? There is no answer to this question,’’ Kazantsev said. 

Secondly, he pointed out that the Americans retain their residual presence in Afghanistan, because it is connected with the personal reputation of President Barack Obama, who built his strategy on the stabilization of Afghanistan and make it the main subject of his strategy between Obama, or AfPak. "If the situation worsens in Afghanistan, Obama's reputation will rapidly suffer. His opponents will recall both the attacks of Islamic State in Iraq, and how they failed to create a local army with heavy expenses, as well as the complete failure of the Afghan policy, where they spent the most amount of money,’’ Kazantsev underlined.

However, Obama is to leave his post in about a year and a half. The struggle against ISIS, the policy in the Middle East, the opposition to Russian influence in the former Soviet space and policy in respect of China will be among the new priorities of the United States, the expert noted. "Afghanistan will be exactly out of this policy. Accordingly, the United States won’t be able to pay much attention to stability in the region for a long period of time, even with the hypothetical TAPI project, as it need billions of dollars. It would be more beneficial for the Americans to transfer their responsibility for an unstable Afghanistan to China and other neighboring countries, because the situation is becoming more and more acute there,’’ Andrey Kazantsev says.

Thirdly, both Moscow and Beijing, which is a key investor and purchaser of natural gas from Turkmenistan, will observe this combination with the Japanese, the Americans and the TAPI project with dissatisfaction.

Fourthly, the Turkmen regime is odious to the West. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov implemented a certain liberalization, but it is not enough according to Western standards. Washington cannot cooperate with Ashgabat without serious image losses.

The Japanese Prime Minister will have an intense program in Astana and Tashkent. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have uranium, Japan has high technologies. Although, after the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, Tokyo changed the energy strategy of the country and almost all nuclear power plants, which provided 30% of energy consumption in the country, were closed. Japan is ready to assist its partners. Japan has switched to LNG and coal, and therefore the country's dependence on external suppliers has increased. Japan is interested in the oil and gas industries of Kazakhstan. One example of such cooperation was the activity of the Japanese corporation JOGMEC in the Caspian Sea, which actively cooperates with the national company KazMunaiGaz. The Japanese company conducts exploration works on the shelf of Northern Caspian.

Together with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan is becoming the second center of attraction of foreign investments in Central Asia. The volume of Japanese investments in the current year into the economy of Uzbekistan amounted to 3.8 billion dollars. Japan is investing projects in railways, oil and gas, energy, mining, automotives, telecommunications, electronics and textile projects. Representative offices of major Japanese corporations such as Mitsu and Mitsubishi have opened in Uzbekistan.

Despite the fact that Japan has no huge financial possibility in comparison with China, Tokyo can compete with Beijing in the Central Asian region.