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Japan’s Abe to visit Myanmar in late May for summit with Thein Sein

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit Myanmar in late May for talks with President Thein Sein with the aim of accelerating Japanese efforts to promote economic development and democratization there, an official said.

It will be the first time in around 36 years for a Japanese prime minister to visit Myanmar. The last was Takeo Fukuda in August 1977.

Abe hopes his visit, likely to be May 25 and 26, will help counter Beijing’s influence in Myanmar, which grew during its years of long isolation under military rule, the official said.

Abe is also considering meeting Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi again during the trip, after the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner visited Japan last week.

Myanmar has been attracting foreign investment since it started a transition toward democracy in March 2011. It is widely seen as Asia’s last untapped frontier with relatively cheap and abundant labor.

Arrangements for the visit got going after it became certain that a trilateral summit between Japan, China and South Korea being prepared for May 25 and 26 in Seoul will be put off due to the Senkaku territorial dispute, the official said.

During the summit with Thein Sein, Abe is expected to convey Tokyo’s intention to help improve the investment environment and infrastructure, the source said.

Abe is also likely to announce a plan to strengthen support for Myanmar’s ethnic minorities by building schools, providing technical assistance in farming and giving other forms of aid if a national reconciliation can be reached, the official said.

Since the launch of Myanmar’s civilian government, Japan has stepped up efforts to promote democratization, helping the country construct utilities and ports, and fight poverty.

At the beginning of this year and only around a week after the launch of the Abe administration, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso pledged Tokyo’s support for Myanmar’s efforts to establish genuine democracy in a meeting with Thein Sein in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.

Abe, meanwhile, conveyed Japan’s support for the country in his meetings with Suu Kyi last week and with N’Ban La, chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group for 11 ethnic groups in Myanmar, earlier this month.