Myanmar president to visit Friday with resumption of aid in the offing

Kyodo

Myanmar President Thein Sein will make a five-day visit to Japan beginning this weekend to attend a multilateral meeting and hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, a Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.

As part of efforts to help support Myanmar’s transition to democratic governance, Noda is likely to announce during their talks Saturday the restart of full-fledged financial assistance to the long-isolated country, government sources said.

It will be the first official visit to Japan in 28 years by a Myanmar leader, the Foreign Ministry official said.

Thein Sein’s visit, which starts Friday, comes after historic by-elections earlier this month in which democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Parliament.

Noda’s one-on-one talks with the president will be held on the sidelines of a one-day summit Saturday between Japan and five Mekong Delta nations — Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

During his stay through Tuesday, Thein Sein, who will be accompanied by foreign and economic ministers, is also scheduled to meet with a number of business executives.

Myanmar has an outstanding debt to Japan of about ¥480 billion. To pave the way for the resumption of yen loans, senior representatives of the two countries have been in talks over the last several months on a plan to repay some, if not all, of the debt.

Unlike the United States and Europe, Japan has kept trade ties with Myanmar and did not impose tough sanctions even during its long period of military rule.

Nonetheless, with the exception of humanitarian aid and some limited technical cooperation, Japan halted new development programs from 2003 in the wake of the detention for a third time of Suu Kyi.

Japan has made no new low-interest yen loans to Myanmar since fiscal 1987. Such loans are often used to build infrastructure.

Japan is considering lending a large sum of money to Myanmar, possibly starting by the end of this fiscal year, to aid progress made on a range of reforms and national reconciliation since Thein Sein formed a nominally civilian government in March 2011.

Following the April 1 elections, in which Suu Kyi’s opposition party won a landslide victory, many Western countries are moving toward relaxing financial sanctions.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department eased part of its sanctions on Myanmar to allow nongovernmental organizations and other institutions to carry out development programs and humanitarian assistance.