As Secretary of State John Kerry begins his Central Asia tour, Carnegie’s Evan Feigenbaum, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the region, spoke to Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek, about the U.S. role in this part of the world and the challenges Washington faces there. Feigenbaum suggested that the Central Asia 5+1 initiative is a good forum that will inject the United States directly into the regional conversation but draws off prior U.S. experience, including the Bush-era Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Central Asia. Cynicism over the effort to promote regional economic integration stems from perceptions among regional elites that the U.S. role has been mostly “talk” rather than action, but also from the fact that the United States brings little tangible investment to the table yet has been a greater enthusiast of regional cooperation than the Central Asian governments themselves. Feigenbaum argued that such cynicism does not negate the importance of trying to promote regional cooperation. There is a substantial body of research that shows that noncooperation regionally erects significant transaction costs that hinder growth. Cooperation could, therefore, spur growth. But what is more, China, among others, is making tangible investments that have begun to overcome such obstacles in some areas, such as through the construction of new cross-border pipelines. Before 1991, regional cooperation was unnecessary because the Soviet authorities in Moscow could simply compel cooperation by administrative fiat. Cooperation in a post-independence environment has proved to be hard but nonetheless can be achieved with the right tools. Feigenbaum explored some of these tools in the interview. He also examined at some length the involvement of China and Japan in Central Asia. He contrasted Beijing’s and Tokyo’s activities with the U.S. role, arguing that there are ways, for example, for the United States and Japan to concert their agendas and piggyback on existing initiatives, such as the Asian Development Bank’s Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program.

This interview was originally broadcast by Voice of America.