Abe looking to visit five Central Asia nations in October


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit five Central Asian countries in October as part of efforts to strengthen economic relations with the resource-rich region, government officials said Thursday.

The visit could also counter China’s growing clout in the region, as well as boost leverage with Russia, according to the officials. They noted Moscow is concerned by Beijing’s surging influence in Central Asia, which Russia hopes to keep within its sphere of influence.

“If Japan competes with China (in Central Asia), Russia would welcome it,” one official said. “As a result, Japan would have one diplomatic card (to play) against Russia.”

The trip would be the first by a Japanese prime minister to Central Asia since Junichiro Koizumi visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in August 2006.

Abe plans to visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan over several days in mid- or late October, the officials said.

According to the plan, the trip would begin with Abe visiting Kazakhstan to promote the export of Japanese nuclear plant technology and equipment.

In Uzbekistan, the final destination, Abe plans to pledge Japan’s assistance in developing that nation’s communications infrastructure.

Abe initially planned to visit the five countries in late August, but had to reschedule the trip after the current Diet session was extended to late September to provide more time to deliberate controversial national security bills.