Japan should advance energy and security ties with Central Asia as the resource-rich region is looking to diversify external relations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a Kazakh expert on regional affairs.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has a “great opportunity” to do so in a planned meeting with the leaders of five Central Asian countries this year, Aida Aidarkulova, executive director of Central Asian Policy Studies Unlock, a Kazakhstan-based think tank, said during a recent visit to Tokyo.
The summit, the details of which are not yet known, will upgrade talks that the two sides have held at a ministerial level since 2004.
The former Soviet republics do not approve of the war in Ukraine and major powers such as the United States, China, France and Germany have stepped up diplomatic and economic engagement with the region amid a perceived decline in Moscow’s influence.
Aidarkulova said nuclear power and other carbon-free technologies, as well as cybersecurity and counterterrorism in pursuit of a free and open Central Asia based on the rule of law, are possible areas of cooperation between Japan and the five countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
She touched on nuclear energy and power plant management, given that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are considering building nuclear power plants in an effort to improve energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Russia, China, France and South Korea have reportedly filed proposals for the possible reintroduction of nuclear power in Kazakhstan, which Aidarkulova said would be a “historic decision” for the country.
Similarly, international players are courting Kazakhstan over its rich reserves of uranium and other resources, as evidenced by French President Emmanuel Macron’s trip to Astana in November. Macron also visited Uzbekistan, another major uranium supplier.
“As the world’s largest uranium producer, with a 40 percent share, it is not a surprise for Kazakhstan to have its own nuclear power capacity as a way of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels,” Aidarkulova said.
But people in Kazakhstan have concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants, she said, citing the country’s history as home to the Soviet-operated Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.
“We had so many problems similar to what you had in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Aidarkulova said, in reference to the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of the two Japanese cities. “Nuclear power may not be the best option in the long run, but we would like to have a sustainable energy source.”
“That’s why we would like to have Japan’s cooperation in nuclear energy, sustainable energy, green energy and everything related to energy,” she said. “We have a lot to learn from your expertise and experiences.”
In a meeting last September in Tokyo, energy ministers of Japan and the five Central Asian countries agreed to aim for the achievement of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 or later by utilizing energy transition technologies.