Asylum seeking compatriots in Japan welcome Suu Kyi visit

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Asylum seekers from Myanmar were buoyed by the visit of their country’s democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and hope it will strengthen bilateral ties and encourage more private-sector investment in their nation’s struggling economy.

Suu Kyi’s visit this week is a historic event for the more than 8,500 Myanmar citizens who sought political asylum in Japan in the wake of the 1988 crackdown on the democracy movement, in which the military junta killed more than 10,000.

“I never imagined that Suu Kyi could come to Japan,” said Tin Win Akbar, who was detained, along with thousands of others, during the uprising. He joined Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in 1989, the day after his release. “I hope her visit will forge friendship between the Burmese people and the Japanese government, as Suu Kyi is the representative of the Burmese public.”

Unlike the United States and European countries, Japan recognized Myanmar’s junta after it seized power in a coup in 1988. Many refugees living in Japan have criticized Tokyo for enriching the authoritarian regime without pressing for reforms.

When President Thein Sein visited Japan last year — the first visit by a head of state in 28 years — the government of then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda forgave ¥300 billion of the ¥500 billion owed by Myanmar. The current finance minister, Taro Aso, in January also pledged to extend new loans of ¥50 billion to the long-isolated nation.

Although the Myanmar community in Japan welcomes such a move, many say long-term financial assistance from the private sector is much more crucial.

“The economic momentum has not started yet,” said Mying Maun, general secretary of the League for Democracy in Burma, who help organized Suu Kyi’s meeting with Myanmar democracy activists Saturday. “I hope Suu Kyi’s visit to Japan will encourage Japanese companies to invest more in Myanmar to create more jobs.”

Many political dissidents expressed hope of returning to Myanmar before the general election slated for 2015 to support Suu Kyi, who is engaged in a delicate political balancing act with the current government headed by the former military commander.

That hope remains on hold as a legal framework has yet to be put in place to ensure their safe return.

“I wrote a letter to her asking her to help us go back to our country without facing risks of being arrested,” said Ko Ko Aung, the general secretary of the Democratic Federation of Burma, who sought asylum in Japan in 1996.

Last year, Ko Ko Aung returned to Myanmar as an invited guest to attend peace talks with the Myanmar government. His request to resume political activities was spurned by the government, which told him the time is not right.

It is also unclear if Suu Kyi can run for president in 2015. The 2008 constitution disqualifies any Myanmar nationals whose family members are foreigners or who hold foreign citizenship from running for president or vice president. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British.

“I’d like to return to Burma and set up an office to conduct development projects, but I cannot do it under the current system,” said Ko Ko Aung.