Suu Kyi arrives in Japan for five-day visit

Myanmar's de facto leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, arrived in Tokyo last night for a five-day introductory visit, during which business will likely feature high on the agenda as she seeks investment to jump-start her country's nascent economy.

Ms Suu Kyi, who is Myanmar's state counsellor and foreign minister, will meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tonight.

Tomorrow, she will deliver a lecture at Kyoto University, where she was once a visiting scholar. She will also meet Japanese business leaders on her trip.

Myanmar expert Toshihiro Kudo of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies told The Straits Times that given the United States' lifting of sanctions last month, there will be "a big push" for foreign investors to enter the Myanmar market.

This is evident from Ms Suu Kyi's remarks two weeks ago in Myanmar when she told envoys and foreign investors: "I would like to stress that no one but our government is more eager to achieve progress because economic development would help us establish democratic institutions here."

Japan is Myanmar's largest provider of debt relief, and another item on the agenda could be overseas development assistance, said Professor Heng Yee Kuang of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy.

Such assistance may include urban planning and infrastructure building for water and electricity.

Prof Kudo noted another potential area where Japan could give support - policymaking and implementation.

"Japan has quite rich policy experience. We can work together to improve the government capacity of Myanmar," he said.

Ms Suu Kyi's visit comes amid mounting international pressure over alleged military violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in a longstanding ethnic conflict.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga skirted the question when asked if the Rohingya issue will be on the table.

He said only that the leaders will "exchange opinions in wide-ranging areas" and that he wanted to "refrain from speculating" on what will be discussed. He did say, however, that Japan "will keep closely watching" the situation.

Said Prof Heng: "Japan's role in potentially helping the peace process could be discussed."

The trip is Ms Suu Kyi's seventh official visit since she took office in March, after Laos, Thailand, China, Britain, the US and India.

Prof Kudo said the sequence reflects the priorities of her agenda: "Laos for Asean as it holds the rotating Asean chairmanship; Thailand for migrant workers; China for peace negotiations; UK and the US for partnership; India for balancing; and now, Japan for economic cooperation and investment."

He added: "Japan understands the geopolitical importance of Myanmar, and we hope we are close friends in terms of both economic and political security. A peaceful, democratic and prosperous Myanmar is in our strategic interest."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2016, with the headline 'Suu Kyi arrives in Japan for five-day visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe