Tokyo’s Aso, Thein Sein hold Myanmar economic talks

Kyodo

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso told Myanmar President Thein Sein on Thursday that Tokyo will provide ¥50 billion in fresh low-interest loans by March after writing off Naypyitaw’s overdue debt totaling some ¥500 billion by the end of January.

During their 80-minute chat in the Southeast Asian nation’s capital, Aso also assured that Japan will give its full support to Myanmar’s efforts to get on the road to a genuine democracy, Japanese officials said.

“Japan wants to maintain sound relations with Myanmar even if its government changes,” Aso said at a news conference in Naypyitaw. “Myanmar has been heavily in debt and unable to attract investment. Japan will remove those obstacles and support the country.”

It is the first time Japan has specified the timing of resuming its yen loans to Myanmar. Tokyo had said it will write off Myanmar’s overdue debt in January and lend ¥50 billion under concessionary terms early this year.

The loan, if extended, will be Japan’s first to Myanmar in 26 years. It is expected to include ¥20 billion for improving the infrastructure of an industrial park and ¥19 billion for upgrading an existing thermal power plant, according to a Japanese official.

Aso became the first Cabinet member to travel abroad since the inauguration of the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week. The new government aims to seize on the expanding demand in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to help Japan’s economy grow faster.

Since Thein Sein established a reform-minded government in March 2011, Myanmar has begun opening up to the world after years of military rule, making a transition to democratic governance.

During the meeting, Thein Sein welcomed Aso’s role in the new Cabinet and expressed hope for Japan’s continued support for Myanmar. He also thanked Japan for deciding to resume financial assistance, saying Tokyo’s aid policy toward Myanmar influenced those of European nations and the United States.

Aso handed Thein Sein a letter from Abe, and Thein Sein, for his part, asked for Abe to visit Myanmar, according to the Japanese officials.

The meeting was also attended by Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese philanthropic organization that has long been involved in helping improve the welfare of ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

Aso also met with Finance and Revenue Minister Win Shein and other senior government officials Thursday in the former junta-ruled country’s administrative capital. The Myanmar side thanked Japan for its active role in helping develop the Tirawa special economic zone on the outskirts of Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar.

Aiming to pave the way for more Japanese firms to enter the fast-growing market, Aso will visit Tirawa on Friday and confer with local business officials before returning home Saturday.