Suu Kyi visiting to drum up support


Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will arrive in Japan on Saturday for her first visit in 27 years to discuss support for her fast-reforming nation, government officials said.

Tokyo aims to strengthen ties with the 67-year-old democracy icon, who is highly influential both within Myanmar as head of the National League for Democracy party and globally as the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

During her weeklong trip, Suu Kyi will hold talks in Tokyo with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the House of Councilors. A meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is still being arranged, the officials said.

Suu Kyi will also travel to the ancient capital of Kyoto, where she worked as a researcher from 1985 to 1986 before being detained by Myanmar’s military junta after her return in 1988, to give lectures at Kyoto and Ryukoku universities on Monday. Kyoto University will make her an honorary fellow, and she will get a doctorate from Ryukoku.

Suu Kyi was a visiting scholar for nine months at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, where she conducted research about her father — Myanmar independence hero Gen. Aung San, according to the Foreign Ministry. She has also made several visits to Ryukoku University, where her late husband, Michael Aris, also carried out research on Tibet.

Between the two lectures, Suu Kyi will visit Urasenke Konnichian, the main tearoom of one of the country’s leading tea ceremony schools, Urasenke.

On Wednesday, she will return to the capital to deliver another lecture at the University of Tokyo titled “Democracy and Expectations of Young Leaders of the World.”

Suu Kyi’s trip, at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry, comes as Japanese businesses are vying to invest in Myanmar as its economy rapidly modernizes and opens up, hoping to tap its comparatively cheap but diligent labor force.

To get a firsthand look at Japanese technology, Suu Kyi on Thursday plans to visit the 634-meter Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest broadcasting tower, and Panasonic Corp.’s showroom in the Tokyo Bay waterfront.

She will also meet with groups of Myanmar nationals residing in Japan during her stay.

Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest in Myanmar, but chose to remain in her native land out of fear that the generals might not allow her to re-enter if she traveled overseas. After Myanmar’s transition to democratic government began in March 2011, she made her first trip abroad in 24 years, visiting Thailand last May. She has since traveled to the United States and Europe, including Britain, France and Norway, as well as to India and South Korea.

In December 2011, then-Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba invited Suu Kyi to visit Japan during a face-to-face meeting in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub.

As part of efforts to bolster Japan’s relationship with Myanmar, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso traveled to its capital, Naypyitaw, in January to hold talks with President Thein Sein. During their meeting, Aso vowed that Japan would provide a further ¥50 billion in low-interest loans by March and support the country’s continuing efforts to establish genuine democracy and a market economy, officials said.

  • Notwithstanding the desirability of establishing democracy in Myanmar, it would be a shame for Myanmar to simply duplicate the failed hopes of Western-style representative democracy. They might take some inspiration from Iceland; but I suggest they can do better still. Western political leaders are trying to extend the Western franchise of democracy; apparently oblivious to citizen discontent and disempowerment.