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Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Kai will make his first official visit to Tokyo in March to seek more Japanese support for the Southeast Asian country’s desperate efforts to overcome fallout from the continued regional economic crisis, government sources said Wednesday.

Although the governments of Japan and Vietnam have yet to fix specific dates for the official visit — the first by a Vietnamese premier in six years — it is most likely to occur between March 11 and March 13, the sources said.

Phan Van Kai succeeded Vo Van Kiet as premier in the reshuffle of the Vietnamese government leadership in September 1997. Vo Van Kiet visited Tokyo in the spring of 1993, just several months after Japan became the first major industrialized nation to resume full-scale economic aid for Vietnam in the autumn of 1992.

Phan Van Kai will meet with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and other political and business leaders during his March visit. Although the Vietnamese and Japanese premiers will discuss a wide range of issues, both bilateral and international, Japanese assistance for the troubled Vietnamese economy will top the agenda at their meeting, the sources said.

When Obuchi visited Hanoi in the middle of December for a meeting with leaders from the nine-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he pledged continued support for Vietnam’s market-oriented economic reforms — introduced in 1986 under the “doi moi” (renovation) policy — to Phan Van Kai and other Vietnamese leaders.

In his talks with Vietnamese officials, Obuchi also announced Japan’s decision to put Vietnam on a list of economically-troubled Asian countries that are eligible to receive Japanese loans, loan guarantees and other various assistance measures under a $30 billion rescue package announced by Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa at the end of September.

The Miyazawa Plan — as the rescue package for Japan’s Asian neighbors is more commonly known — originally targeted Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea. Japan’s application of the Miyazawa Plan to Vietnam will be primarily aimed at helping the Southeast Asian country overcome its acute balance of payment difficulties.

The government sources said that Japan will consider specific assistance measures for Vietnam under the Miyazawa Plan so that they can be announced during Phan Van Kai’s planned Tokyo visit in March.

Vietnam has not been immune from the fallout from the Asian financial and economic crisis, which was triggered in the summer of 1997 by Thailand’s de facto devaluation of its currency and has since spread through much of Asia.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, Vietnam is facing balance of payment difficulties and has a hard-currency debt approaching $11 billion, due to a dramatic slowdown in the growth of exports and a sharp decline in foreign investment amid the continued economic crisis.

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