Envoy backs Myanmar’s nation-building bid

by Hidenori Tajima

Kyodo

Mikio Numata, Japan’s ambassador to Myanmar, said he will support the people’s efforts to build their own nation.

“I would respect whatever future Myanmar people envision,” said Numata, who assumed his post last November.

Numata, 63, said he realized that Myanmar had changed dramatically when U.S. President Barack Obama flew there that month, becoming the first U.S. leader to visit while in office.

In 2011, Myanmar’s military junta stepped down after years of harsh rule and finally transferred power to a quasi-civilian government led by former army Gen. Thein Sein.

Its surprising step toward democratization has paid off big.

“I am astonished because so many guests have kept coming,” Numata said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other important business and political figures have recently visited Myanmar, which has since become a popular investment destination known as the “last frontier in Asia.”

Japan’s public and private sectors are facilitating the nation-building process by helping Myanmar develop infrastructure.

Born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Numata entered the Foreign Ministry as a noncareer track expert on China and worked in such locations as Beijing and Hong Kong.

He said the most memorable event in his career was the 1992 visit to China by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

Numata said he is proud he was able to help build future-oriented ties between Japan and China by devoting himself to the historic visit behind the scenes.

He is thus very disappointed bilateral relations have soured over the Senkaku Islands row.

“What was that effort we made back then?” Numata asked.

Numata was made director general of the Consular Affairs Bureau in 2011, becoming the first noncareer-track official to be promoted to an executive position at the ministry.

But not everything has been smooth sailing. It took a considerable amount of time for Numata to win a promotion to division chief.

“I learned that the walls of the career-based system were thick indeed,” he said.

Numata still reads the Buddhist chants he started using to overcome setbacks.

As ambassador to Myanmar, he is thinking of increasing youth exchanges next year for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Myanmar relations.

“The most important thing (in bilateral ties) should be young people, above all,” he said.