Japan should support development of Myanmar’s young democracy

opinion November 07, 2016 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

Japan should steadily help the administration of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was launched in March, get its new nation-building efforts on track.

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor and foreign minister, has come to Japan and held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At their meeting, Abe said, “Japan will offer its all-out public- and private-sector support for the new Myanmar administration.” Abe announced Japan would provide about ¥800 billion in economic aid over five years for development of infrastructure and agricultural communities in Myanmar. This aid will include official development assistance (ODA) and private-sector capital.

Japan will also provide ¥40 billion over five years to promote peace with ethnic minority groups – an issue Suu Kyi considers a top priority. Suu Kyi hailed Japan’s aid, saying it would “contribute to our peace process and nation-building effort”.

With a population of about 50 million and blessed with natural resources including natural gas, Myanmar has been dubbed “Asia’s last frontier”. About 300 Japanese-affiliated companies have already launched business operations there. Accelerating private investment in Myanmar with the ODA as an incentive, it is important for both nations to strategically pursue mutual benefits.

Abe also told Suu Kyi of a plan to dispatch members of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers to Myanmar for the first time. Enabling exchanges between young people and supporting the development of engineers will be a strategic move toward strengthening ties in the future.

Myanmar should set policies

Economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Myanmar’s military regime have been a major impediment to its growth. The sanctions have been gradually eased since Myanmar transferred to civilian rule in 2011, but the United States continued to prohibit conducting business with local companies and business leaders who had close links to the military regime.

In September, Suu Kyi visited the United States and urged US President Barack Obama to lift these sanctions. The US side acknowledged the progress in Myanmar’s democratisation and agreed to drop the sanctions.

Suu Kyi probably aimed to stabilise the government administration by pursuing reconciliation with the military through the lifting of the sanctions. This will make it easier for Japanese firms to do business with local companies that had been subject to the sanctions.

The new government also passed a law easing restrictions on foreign investment. Myanmar will need to quickly draw up concrete economic policies to expand this investment even further.

One nagging concern is Suu Kyi’s use of omnidirectional diplomacy and her quickness to repair relations with China, which had worsened under the previous administration.

She promptly visited China in August. For Beijing, Myanmar sits in a geopolitically important location, as it offers an overland route to the Indian Ocean. Chinese President Xi Jinping is attempting to bolster China’s influence through economic cooperation and increased trade. To prevent Myanmar from tilting excessively toward China, it is vital that Japan and the United States work closely together to encourage Myanmar’s democratic development and support this process.