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Japan-led meeting ‘futile attempt’ to pit Central Asia against China and Russia

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Japan is holding a foreign ministers’ meeting with Central Asian countries and organizing air combat training with India in the near future, in the latest move to step up its involvement in the “Indo-Pacific” and beyond, with the aim of containing China and Russia since it rolled out one of the strongest military build-up plans since World War II last week. 

Tokyo will hold talks with foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries on Saturday to discuss multilateral cooperation and pressing issues of the day, including the Ukraine crisis and the situation in Afghanistan, Japan’s Foreign Ministry announced, noting that Japan and Central Asia are “partners that maintain and strengthen the international order based on the rule of law under the current severe international circumstances.”

This is the 9th meeting between foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – and Japan since the dialogue was established in 2004.  

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova slammed the Japan-led meeting on Thursday as being “clearly aimed at undermining the broad economic relations between Central Asia and Russia” with authorization from the US, and that “Japan seems to have lost its ability to pursue an independent policy and has turned entirely to serving the interests of others,” Sputnik News reported. 

Japan last week approved three documents – the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Program Guidelines, and the Mid-Term Defense Program – in one of the country’s largest defense shake-ups since World War II, sparking concerns that through the drastic adjustment, Japan is deviating further from the track of post-war peaceful development. 

The documents listed “China as an unprecedented strategic challenge,” labeled China’s foreign and military activities as “severe concerns” of the international community and accused China of posing a “threat” to residents of the region with its military drills in the Taiwan Straits.

Experts said that the meeting with Central Asian countries echoes Japan’s need to expand its influence, and especially its military presence, to the Indo-Pacific regions and beyond in an attempt to stifle China and Russia. 

Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Friday that one of the reasons why Japan is reaching out to Central Asia, where Japan’s involvement had been rather weak in the past, is that Japan intends to make them target buyers for its arms exports, especially after the country is set to increase its defense budget to 2 percent of GDP starting 2027. 

Apart from selling weapons to these countries, Japan aims to deepen its engagement with the military authorities of Central Asia, for example, by providing personnel training for them, so that its military tentacles can enter these countries, then besiege and threaten China and Russia, Liu said. 

Experts noted that while Japan is trying hard to rope in new “allies,” Central Asian countries will not blindly buy its words, as they have greater consideration for the traditional friendship and close ties with China and Russia, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. At the same time, once they clearly see the strategic intentions of Japan and the US, especially the moves following the introduction of Japan’s new defense policy, they will not be fooled by a few superficial “benefits.”

Russia on Thursday criticized Japan’s new defense policies, warning that they could escalate tensions in the Asia-Pacific region. Zakharova said in a statement that it “has embarked on the path of an unprecedented build-up of its military power, including strike potential.”

Japan and India are set to hold their first bilateral air combat exercise from January 16 to 26, “to promote mutual understanding and strengthen defense cooperation between the Air Forces and enhance Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF)’s tactical skills,” the JASDF said in a statement on Thursday, Indian media reported. 

The Indian Air Force is fielding four Su-30MKI fighters along with a contingent of around 150 personnel who will be transported by two C-17 transport aircraft, while the Japanese side will field four F-15s and four F-2 fighter jets for the exercise.

Source : Global Times