Japan to strengthen relations with "Silk Road" region

Feb 17, 1999 01:00 AM

Japan is about to launch a new diplomatic initiative to strengthen relations with oil-rich Central Asia, also known here as the "Silk Road" region.
The government will organise a seminar in March to discuss security issues in the region
The new focus of Tokyo's diplomatic agenda is establishing "strategic relations" with the region, which encircles the Caspian Sea, the centre of the last great oil rush of this century.

The strategic importance of the region was first emphasised by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who proposed conducting a Silk Road diplomacy to deepen ties with the eight former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The region has become a battleground for the major oil companies and world powers, including the U.S., Russia, China and countries in Europe, all scrambling for the immense oil deposits and natural-gas reserves buried there.
The Caspian Sea spans a huge field of liquid gold. Some 200 bn barrels, or about 10 % of the world's potential oil reserves, are believed to lie under or around its waters.
Naturally, Japan doesn't want to be left out. It plans to boost its presence in the area by increasing political dialogue, pumping up economic assistance and expanding support to the region's efforts toward nuclear non-proliferation, democracy and peace.

Tokyo has made substantial headway in economic co-operation. But diplomatic traffic has been rather one-sided. Few top Japanese officials have travelled to the area while many of their Central Asian counterparts have visited Japan.
In particular, no Japanese VIP has paid a visit to Azerbaijan with its Baku oil field, which is believed to account for 20-30 % of all the oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. Komura's planned visit to the country will be the first attempt to make up for past neglect.

To help strengthen security and promote peace in the region, the government is planning to hold a seminar on "comprehensive strategy" on March 9. Experts from the U.S., Russia, China, Iran and Turkey as well as the countries in the region will discuss issues concerning regional security and co-operation.

Source: Nikkei
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