Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wound up a five-nation tour of Central Asia on October 27 in Astana with the promise of multimillion dollar investment deals and an offer from Tokyo to help build a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan.
In the end, however, nothing substantive appears to have come of this leg of Abe’s historic visit to the region.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in remarks cited by his office that Kazakhstan and Japan are moving forward with 10 projects worth a total of $700 million. And yet there were no reports of any investment deals actually being signed between the two countries, which Nazarbayev described as “distant neighbors, but close friends.”
Nazarbayev said hopefully that there was Japanese investor interest in sectors ranging from agriculture and transport to chemicals and rare earth metals.
The agreements on the table in Kazakhstan were dwarfed by the $18 billion and $8.5 billion in investment deals reportedly signed in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan earlier in Abe’s five-nation tour.
Astana is eager to drum up investment as it faces an economic downturn, especially with one of its biggest trading partners, Russia, in recession and another, China, facing slower growth. Tokyo appears to be trying to take advantage of those countries’ plight to muscle more aggressively into the backyard of rival Beijing, whose economic presence in Central Asia is far greater.
The deals in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were focused in the energy sector, but Astana is particularly keen to secure funding outside the oil and gas industries for infrastructure projects. Nazarbayev reminded a Japanese business delegation accompanying Abe that Astana introduced investment perks last year for investors in the non-extractive sectors.
Abe said Japan was ready to offer expertise for the construction of a nuclear power plant that Kazakhstan plans to build to solve energy shortages.
Nazarbayev, no doubt conscious that Japan was the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in years in 2011, made no public response, but pointed out that Japan and Kazakhstan had variously “experienced the tragic consequences of the testing and use of nuclear weapons.”
The area near Semipalatinsk in northern Kazakhstan was the site of a Soviet nuclear testing ground until the late 1980s, while Japan was the target of U.S. atomic bombing attacks at the end of World War II.