Japan pledges $10.7b in aid to Myanmar

Sum will be for infrastructure and capability building, as well as helping ethnic minorities

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (centre), accompanied by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, reviews a guard of honor before their meeting at the state guest house in Tokyo, Japan on Nov 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Japan yesterday pledged 800 billion yen (S$10.7 billion) in aid to Myanmar over five years, of which 5 per cent will go towards aiding the ethnic minorities in the country's conflict-torn regions.

The package was announced after an hour-long meeting last night between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in Tokyo on a five-day introductory visit.

"We hope the aid will help spread the fruit of peace-building to various regions in Myanmar," Mr Abe said at a joint news conference with Ms Suu Kyi after the meeting.

Foreign Ministry press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura told The Straits Times that the 40 billion yen in peace-building aid will be devoted to Rakhine state, home to a persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingya. The money will be spent on, among other things, agricultural development and education.

He also quoted Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as saying during the closed-door meeting that she would like to "resolve the issue in Rakhine on the basis of the rule of law". Mr Abe, in turn, said Japan will "support financially the ethnic minorities in the area".

Japan is already Myanmar's largest debt relief provider, even before the latest 800 billion yen in aid, loans and investment.

The rest of the sum is slated to be spent on infrastructure building, including the stabilisation of electricity supply, urban development in Yangon, and capacity building.

Mr Abe, in pledging full support across private and public sectors to Ms Suu Kyi's new government that took office in March, said he respects Myanmar's nation-building "under the universal values we share - freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law".

Ms Suu Kyi - Myanmar's State Counsellor and Foreign Minister - in turn thanked Mr Abe for the years of support towards her country's peace and stability, conveying her hopes that Japan will be a "good friend and trusted partner as we write a new page in our history".

She is in Japan to woo investments to fuel her country's nascent economy, and Mr Abe yesterday said Japan will promote private sector investments in Myanmar.

Japan has over 300 firms operating in Myanmar, having not imposed any trade or financial sanctions during years of military rule.

Mr Kawamura said Japan views Myanmar as an important bilateral partner due to its connectivity in the Mekong region, and its proximity to India, with which Japan has warm ties. He added that the two leaders also discussed the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issue, as well as the South China Sea territorial dispute, on which "the two leaders shared the importance of the rule of law".

Professor Heng Yee Kuang of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy noted: "Diplomatically, Tokyo is keen to assess the new Myanmar government's stance towards Beijing, and politically, Tokyo is also keen to sustain the democratic transition to the new government." China and Japan have been described as geo-economic rivals in Asia.

Ms Suu Kyi met more than 1,000 Myanmar citizens living in Tokyo at a reception yesterday morning, telling them that while she is trying to reform Myanmar's political system, the process will take time. Today, she will deliver a speech at Kyoto University, where she was once a visiting scholar. She is scheduled to call on Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko tomorrow, and will return to Naypyitaw on Saturday.

Japan is already Myanmar's largest debt relief provider, even before the latest 800 billion yen in aid, loans and investment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline Japan pledges $10.7b in aid to Myanmar. Subscribe