November, 2016

Participated in Second Astana Club held in Kazakhstan

Masahiro Akiyama
Chairman, SSDP

The Astana Club was founded in 2015, modeled after a major global forum in Russia, Valdai Discussion Club. The second meeting of the Astana Club was held in November 13- 15, 2016 to which I was invited and participated.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the Central Asia (Central Eurasia) has been attracting the attention of major powers such as Russia, China and the U.S. due to its strategic importance. Kazakhstan launched this international forum to take political initiative in the region where she maintains the vast land and rich natural resources.

The title for the forum this year was "Eurasia at a Crossroads" and it was expected to have heated discussions on global challenges facing Eurasia, geo-economic initiatives by major powers and security threats.

The actual discussion, however, was occupied by the outcome of recent US presidential election and the President-elect Donald Trump. An American participant of the forum insisted that the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan and Syria to concentrate its attention on East Asia. President Nazarbayev who joined the forum expressed his strong hope that the U.S. would remain engaged in the region to keep the stability. It may reflect the geopolitical situation of Kazakhstan that is consistently subject to the influence of Russia.

Out of 60 registered participants, 12 persons came from the U.S., with 10 from Russia, and 6 from China. From Japan, 4 persons participated and 9 people joined from 6 European countries. Others were from Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, India and so on.

It was interesting that the largest number of participant was from the U.S., the most distant country from the region. China"s presence was comparatively small while 4 participants from Japan reflected its special relations with Kazakhstan.

I had a chance to question President Nazarbayev who had just come back from the official visit to Japan. I asked him about the achievement of his visit to Japan, the outlook of Japan-Kazakhstan relations and Japan"s possible contribution to the Central Asia. He referred to his visit to Hiroshima insisting that Kazakhstan and Japan shared the threat of nuclear weapons and expressed his appreciation for Japanese investment in the region showing concrete business cases. He also explained the idea of a regional security architecture to which Japan also has an interest. This question and answer helped demonstrate the presence of Japan at the forum.

On the third day, Parliament Chairman and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan joined the conference to have free discussion with participants. They were fluent in both English and Russian, and their precise and frank responses to the questions were impressive. The discussion was very fruitful as the two political leaders were very much internationally- minded, a quality which may not be easy to find in Japanese political leaders. As far as Japan"s diplomatic activities are concerned, I had a strong feeling at the conference that it is not enough for Japan to simply have a special relation with other countries. Japanese foreign policy must be based on a global viewpoint on economy, political stability, and security.

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