Dobrinskaya Olga. Japan and Turkmenistan on the way towards closer cooperation
12.10.2013 г.

Japan and Turkmenistan on the way towards closer cooperation

Olga Dobrinskaya, PhD, Centre for Japanese Studies, Institute of Eastern Studies, Academy of Science of Russia

On September 11-13 2013 the President of Turkmenistan G.Berdymukhamedov paid an official visit to Japan . This visit is the second in the history of bilateral relations and the second since the change of leadership in Turkmenistan. The results of the recent official meetings in Tokyo are the continuation and development of the course to intensify ties, which began with the Turkmen leader's visit to Japan in December 2009.

Relations between Japan and Turkmenistan have long been the "weak link" in Tokyo 's Central Asian policy. Although diplomatic relations were established in April 1992, the Japanese Embassy in Ashgabat opened only in January 2005. Political contacts were quite rare. Japanese officials visited the country mainly within the framework of multilateral missions to the region - for example, the Obuchimission (Japan-Russia/Central Asia dialogue mission) in 1997 and the Silk Road Energy mission led by S.Sugiura in 2002.

Despite the obvious appeal of hydrocarbon resources of Turkmenistan, the absence of viable transportation routesdoes not allow Japan to rely on them in terms of its energy security. In the 1990s . Tokyo was interested in the incipient major projects for gas transportation, either through China, or through Pakistan. The first casewas a pipeline Turkmenistan- Kazakhstan -China- South Korea - Japan. In August 1995 a trilateral agreement on cooperation in its implementation was signed in Beijing between the Japanese company "Mitsubishi", American "Exxon" and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation. The project envisaged the construction of a pipeline 6.4 kilometers long which would cost $ 11 billion. The feasibility study of the project was completed in 1998, but its high cost as well as the change in the energy policy of China became the reasons why the option of a gas pipeline to Japan was no longer being considered and China became the end point of the pipeline.

The second project which interested Tokyo was the Turkmenistan -Afghanistan- Pakistan pipeline. In 1997 the consortium to construct the pipeline was joined by the Japanese companies "Itochu" with a share of 6.5 %, and "INPEX" with 6.5 %, however, in 1998 the project was shelved. After the Karzai government came to power in Afghanistan, the discussion of the pipeline was renewed, it was even stated that Tokyo was considering participation in its implementation, but so far Japanese companies has shown no intention to pursue this route . Japan is indirectly supporting the project through the Asian Development Bank, which sponsored its feasibility study. Today, Tokyo is considering a gas pipeline through Afghanistan not in terms of its own energy security, buton the basis of its political significance. The former Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2006 regarded the pipeline as a way of turning the region into the" corridor of peace and stability," stretching through Central Asia to Afghanistan.

Despite the lack of opportunity to receive energy from Turkmenistan, Japan managed quite successfully to establish a profitable business presence. In 1993-1994 bilateral economic cooperation committees were launched. Their activities directly contributed to the realization of projects in the oil and gas sector, transportation, healthcare and agriculture. For example, Japanese companies took part in the modernization of the country's biggest oil refineries in the cities of Turkmenbashi and Seydi. The companies "Itochu", "JGC" and "Nissho Iwai"have contributed to the launch of the production of polypropylene in the country. "Itochu" and "Komatsu"have been exporting construction and earth digging equipment to Turkmenistan for more than ten years. Japanese equipment is in demand in the rapidly growing textile industry. Implementation of projects is largely made possible by commercial loans, provided to Turkmenistan by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. In turn, Japanese companies get contracts for works being carried out as implementation of these loans. Thus, the Japanese business has managed to find a certain niche in the economy of Turkmenistan.

At the same time, the main parameters of cooperation are very modest. Japan's trade volume with Turkmenistan in 2012 amounted to about $ 121 million.[1]. Until recently, there has been almost no Japanese direct investment in the country's economy[2]. Japan is not one of the main trade partners of Turkmenistan, and the potential for economic cooperation is yet to be realized in full.

The changes taking place in foreign and domestic policy after the shift of power in Turkmenistan have a major influence on Japanese- Turkmen relations. As Turkmenistan began its way out of the isolation on the international arena, determined to promote multi-directional economic ties, this allowed bringing bilateral contacts to a new level. It was illustrated by the first visit of the Turkmen leader to Tokyo in December 2009.

Following the meetings,a Joint statement on further development of friendship, partnership and cooperation between Turkmenistan and Japan, as well as the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two countries were signed. For the first time a substantive dialogue on the highest level took place and the political agenda of the relations was consolidated. The two countries not only outlined the guidelines for further cooperation, but also specified the concrete parameters of the dialogue between the foreign ministries. The parties agreed to hold regular consultations to discuss global issues and regional cooperation, coordinate their positions in international organizations. In addition to intensifying the bilateral dialogue Tokyo and Ashgabat noted the proximity of views on many international issues.

The 2009 visitwas accompanied by the regular meeting of the joint committee on economic cooperation, where Japanese companies concluded a number of contracts in the energy and chemical industry. It is planned to build a plant for the production of ammonia and urea in the city of Mary, a feasibility study is being carried out for the construction of a new refinery in the town Okarem, and other major projects are underway.According to the government sources of Turkmenistan, as of June 1, 2013, 26 projects with the participation of Japanese companies have been registered in the country.[3]

As the economic development of Turkmenistan goes on, the country demonstrates a growing interest in cutting-edge technology that can be offered by Japan, and the prospects of opening a Japanese Information Center for Advanced Technologyin Turkmenistan are being discussed. Tokyo has repeatedly stressed that Japanese technology and natural resources of Turkmenistan complement each other. In order to attract investment the" Japan -Turkmenistan network for investment environment improvement"was established in March 2013. Its objectives includecoordination of interagency activities and facilitationof the exchange of information among interested parties. The opening of the Turkmen Embassy in Japan in May 2013 will indeed foster the promotion of the development of business, political and cultural contacts.

The 2013 visit was in many ways a continuation of the joint efforts aimed at the development of bilateral ties, which started in 2009, and it alsoreflects the general trend of strengthening Japan's relations with the countries of the region. It is no coincidence that the title of the Joint Statement between Turkmenistan and Japan on a New Partnership signed in 2013 repeats the title of the 2012 joint statement of the dialogue "Central Asia plus Japan". The new partnership for Japan and Turkmenistan includes the intensification of political dialogue, development of economic, cultural and scientific ties. It involves increasing participation of Japanese companies in the development of natural resources, modernization of port infrastructure, cooperation in the field of healthcare and medicine. Japan intends to bring to Turkmenistan advanced technology, as well as to assist in training of specialists. In the future, more attention will be given to the measures to facilitate transition to green economy. For example, during a visit in 2013 an agreement was signed between state company "Turkmengaz" and the Japanese Oil, Gas and MetalsNational Corporation on the introduction of gas liquefaction technology «gas to liquid», which would allowminimizing carbon dioxide emissions into the environment, as well as on conductingtraining coursesfor specialists in the energy field from Turkmenistan[4].

During the visit the Turkmen- Japanese business forum took place, which resulted in signing of a vast package of agreements on the participation of Japanese companies in a number of projects (among them are projects on constructing plants for processing natural gas into liquid fuels, processing of natural gas into gasoline, construction of a chemical complex for the production of polyethylene and polypropylene, a plant for the production of sodium sulfate and washing powder, plant for the production of ammonia and carbamide, and other enterprises). According to expert estimates, the total cost of the projects for the construction of gas chemical plants exceeds $ 10 billion.[5]

Both in2009 and in 2013,the way of conducting large-scale business meetings simultaneously with the official visit increases their relevance, attracts public attention, provides necessary media support for economic initiatives in the relations between the two countries.

The value of Turkmenistan for Japan is determined not only by its natural resources and economic potential, but also its geopolitical position as a bridge between the West and the East. Japan for many years has been involved in the reconstruction of the routes of the Silk Road, and the improvement of transport infrastructure in Turkmenistan is seen as an opportunity to establish transit traffic between Europe and Asia. Japanese loan has beenextended for the modernization of the railway depot in Ashgabat. Tokyo has repeatedly expressed willingness to participate in the modernization of the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi.

Turkmenistan plays an important role in a number of cross-border infrastructure projects in the south direction. In particular, the plans of the gas pipeline Turkmenistan -Afghanistan -Pakistan- India and the construction of the railway Turkmenistan- Afghanistan- Tajikistan are essential elements of the rehabilitation and development of Afghanistan. Japan attaches great importance to this aspect of regional cooperation, as the organizer of the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction of Afghanistan in 2012 it stands as a stakeholder in the process.

Tokyo's determination to strengthen its positions in Central Asia, including through the promotion of multilateral cooperation under the auspices of Japan, explains its desire to engage Turkmenistan in the dialogue "Central Asia plus Japan". Earlier Ashgabat had shown no interest in this initiative, its participation was minimal: In the course of the negotiations in 2009 Japan gained Turkmenistan's support for the dialogue "Central Asia plus Japan". Unlike previous meetings of the ministers of foreign affairs of the dialogue, which the representatives of Turkmenistan attended as observers (2004) or did not attend at all (2006), at the meeting in 2010 the ambassador of Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan put his signature on the final joint statement. At the fourth ministerial meeting of the dialogue in 2012 Turkmenistan was first represented by the minister of foreign affairs. As a result of the talks in September 2013 Ashgabat expressed willingness to cooperate in the preparation for the next ministerial meeting to be held in 2014.

An essential part of the overall political agenda between Tokyo and Ashgabat is the cooperation on the international arena. Japan is keen on getting support for the concept of "human security", which underlies Tokyo policies of addressing global issues. Turkmenistan shares the Japanese vision of the concept, which places emphasis on its social and economic aspects, while rejecting the possibility of humanitarian intervention to protect people fromphysical threats.

In a joint statement signed in 2013 the parties reaffirmed their commitment to the rule of law and non-settlement of disputes by force. Recently, Tokyo has often used this phrase in connection with the aggravated territorial dispute in the East China Sea. Therefore, its inclusion in a joint statement with Turkmenistan, an important partner of China, is aimed at strengthening diplomatic positions of Tokyo vis-à-vis Beijing regarding this situation.

Along with the most pressing problemsthe international agenda traditionally include the issue of the reform of the United Nations. The position of Turkmenistan and other Central Asian states on the question of expanding the Security Council is important to Japan, which seeks to obtain the status of a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In addition to the above, Tokyo and Ashgabat hold similar views on disarmament, non-proliferation and climate change. It is important to note the desire to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, the problems facing the region because of the threat emanating from Afghanistan.

The results of the 2013 visit highlighted agrowingtrend towards bringing the two countries closer to each other. As Turkmenistan implements a policy of active outreach, Japan engages it in political cooperation, including the cooperation within the framework of the dialogue "Central Asia plus Japan",and at the same time rapidly expandsits economic presence in the country and in the region.


[1]Japan-Turkmenistannetworkfor investment environment improvement. -

[2]As ofFebruary 2010. MinistryofforeignaffairsofJapan.-