NAYPYITAW – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday pledged ¥91 billion in fresh aid to Myanmar while waiving another ¥190 billion in debt, to support the democratizing Southeast Asian country’s growth.
During the first visit by a Japanese prime minister in 36 years, Abe and Myanmar President Thein Sein agreed to lay “a new foundation for mutual friendship” by boosting cooperation in economic, political and security areas, as well as interpersonal and cultural exchanges.
Abe called for “jump-starting” bilateral ties, which had been somewhat “frozen” until the country decided to shift from military rule to a democratic government in March 2011, and taking the relationship to a higher level, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said.
Unlike its Western allies, Japan maintained trade ties with Myanmar during the military junta’s rule, which ended in 2011, saying that taking a hard line on sanctions might push it closer to Beijing.
After the summit, the two leaders exchanged notes on Tokyo’s waiver of the remaining debt and the provision of some ¥51 billion in fresh loans to help develop Myanmar’s infrastructure, as well as up to ¥40 billion in grant and technical assistance in fiscal 2013.
Of the ¥51 billion, ¥20 billion will be spent on infrastructure for the Tilawa special economic zone near Yangon, which will be developed by a Japan-Myanmar joint venture by 2015.
Abe’s latest pledge to cancel outstanding loans worth ¥190 billion brings the total amount of debt waived by Japan to around ¥500 billion.
Abe said Japan’s public and private sectors would support Myanmar’s efforts to promote the nation’s democratization, rule of law, economic reform, and national reconciliation between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities to resolve conflicts.
Abe and Thein Sein also vowed to work toward the early signing of a bilateral accord on investment and technical cooperation.
As for bilateral political and security cooperation, the two leaders decided to enhance dialogue on security and regional issues as well as promote cooperation and exchange between their defense authorities.
Abe told Thein Sein that Japan believes it is important to deepen cooperation with Myanmar, which is sandwiched between China and India and will chair meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014, to secure stability in the region, Seko said.
The prime minister also said Japan would invite about 1,000 Myanmar youths to bolster interpersonal exchanges between the two countries.
Abe also asked Thein Sein to probe the death of photojournalist Kenji Nagai, who was shot dead while filming prodemocracy protests in Yangon in 2007.