During her recent visits abroad, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not only expressed her thanks for support from various countries for democratization efforts in Myanmar but also called for increased investment in the country to improve the well-being of Myanmar people.
Japan should consider how to make meaningful contributions to reconstruction of the country, which has suffered from sanctions imposed by Western countries over its military rule. Just giving money will not bring about the desired results.
In May, Ms. Suu Kyi left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years and visited Thailand. On June 13, she started tours of Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain and France. She came back to Myanmar on June 30. Speaking before a conference of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, she called for investment in Myanmar.
But she warned against forming joint ventures with Myanmar’s state oil and natural gas enterprises, saying that they lack transparency and accountability. In Oslo, she delivered her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded her in 1991.
The situation surrounding Myanmar has completely changed from a year ago. Many countries have promised to offer economic assistance to the county. Enterprises from various countries are looking for opportunities to make headway into the country. Myanmar is rich in natural resources and has a large labor force that is both cheap and excellent.
Overseas funds are likely to flow into the country because the development of untapped natural gas resources will accelerate following a decision in March by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which demarcated the territorial waters of Myanmar and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
Japan is in an advantageous position vis-à-vis Myanmar because it has continued to have relations with the country ever since the birth of the military government there in 1988.
In April, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Japan will forgive ¥300 billion in debt owed by Myanmar to Japan and will restart yen loans to the country.
Japan can play an important role in helping to improve Myanmar’s infrastructure. Although China has accumulated experience in building roads in the country, Japan, which is blessed with railway-related technologies and knowhow — ranging from train car manufacturing to laying of rail tracks — should be able to make a significant contribution in Myanmar’s railway construction. Public health is another field in which Japan can help Myanmar.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency should work together with private-sector Japanese individuals who have continued support activities in Myanmar when it carries out field surveys and writes proposals for assistance programs.
Japan should speedily extend assistance to Myanmar to prevent retrogression of the country’s democratization process.
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