Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is planning to visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan starting in late April, Japanese government sources said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to counter growing Chinese clout in Central Asia.
Tokyo also plans to host a meeting of foreign ministers from five countries in the region, also involving Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, by the end of June to discuss measures to enhance their economic relations, the sources said.
Japan and the five countries launched the foreign ministerial dialogue in 2004 for regional development. In 2020, they held a videoconference, agreeing to cooperate in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
China continues to invest in large-scale infrastructure in Central Asia through its "Belt and Road" initiative. President Xi Jinping held online talks with leaders from the same five nations in January, discussing regional security.
At the planned meeting, Japan is expected to warn of such financing by China amid concerns it could saddle recipient countries with loans they cannot repay. Hayashi will likely highlight the quality of Japanese investment and also announce assistance in fighting the pandemic, the sources said.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Japan's establishment of diplomatic ties with the five Central Asian countries following their independence from the former Soviet Union.
During the tour, Hayashi is also considering stopping in Mongolia, where he would meet his counterpart and other officials to seek support in resolving the issue of North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals, the sources said. Mongolia maintains close ties with North Korea.