Japan to spend $700 million in Central Asia

Japan pledged to launch projects worth $700 million in Central Asia to help the resource-rich region promote trade, energy-saving and regional cooperation in stabilising nearby Afghanistan.

The commitment followed a meeting in Tokyo on Saturday between foreign ministers from Japan and five Central Asian nations -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"We had frank discussions to help build a stronger, richer and more open Central Asia," Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters after the meeting, the fourth edition of the "Central Asia plus Japan dialogue" which started in Kazakhstan in 2004.

According to a joint statement, the projects will cover five areas -- trade investment, environment and energy-saving, narrowing the wealth gap, regional cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan and cooperation in disaster prevention.

"Promoting cooperation between Japan and Central Asia will contribute to help sustain peace and stability in Afghanistan and resolve problems in the international community," said Gemba in an opening speech at the meeting.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the visiting ministers on Friday: "I place importance on Central Asia which is placed in a geopolitically important position and rich in resources and energy."

Tokyo wants Japanese firms to play a greater role in the mineral business in the region, which has ample reserves of crude oil, natural gas, uranium and other natural resources, media reports said.

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