Ms. Suu Kyi visits Japan

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy, is now visiting Japan for the first time in almost 27 years at the invitation of the Japanese government.

For nine months in 1985-86 at Kyoto University, she did research on Myanmar’s independence movement and her father, Gen. Aung San, who was instrumental in achieving Burma’s independence from Britain. She is to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday evening, marking the first time that a Japanese prime minister holds a meeting with her.

While Myanmar was under the military rule and facing strong criticism from Western countries for its oppression of the democracy movement, Japan continued to have relations with the military regime. Ms. Suu Kyi criticized Japan for supporting the regime and expressed dissatisfaction with Japan’s economic assistance to Myanmar on the grounds that it would only benefit the military government.

The Japanese government should use Ms. Suu Kyi’s current visit to Japan as a good chance to strengthen channels of communication with her and the opposition forces in Myanmar so that Japan can have a broad-based relationship with the country.

After she was elected to the lower house of the Myanmar Parliament in April 2012, she visited Thailand, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain, the United States, India and South Korea. But she refrained from visiting Japan. Her decision this time to accept the invitation may mean that she thinks it would be in Myanmar’s best interest as Japan is a major donor of economic assistance.

Although she heads Myanmar’s largest opposition party, she is getting along well with President Thein Sein and her weight in Myanmar’s politics is increasing. Japan should strive to establish a trustful relationship with her. Such an attempt is important all the more because the NLD may achieve a big victory in the general election expected to be held in 2015. By deepening its relationship with Ms. Suu Kyi, Japan can also present itself as a strong supporter of democratization in Myanmar.

As an opposition leader who strived for the democratization of her country despite house arrests that spanned more than 14 years in total and who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, Ms. Suu Kyi has strong charisma. But now that she is a member of the National Parliament, the public is closely watching each move she makes to determine whether she is still on their side or now on the government’s side. She has been criticized for allegedly lacking sympathy for ordinary people on issues involving ethnic minorities, or, for example, a copper mine project that is opposed by local residents.

It will be important for her to explain to Japan what kind of country she wants to build. Japan should fully take into consideration her explanation in working out its basic principle for its assistance to Myanmar. Based on such principles, Japan should push for national reconciliation and democratization in Myanmar.