Abe to visit Myanmar Fri. to Sun. to enhance economic ties

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Myanmar from Friday to Sunday for talks with the country's leaders aimed at strengthening bilateral economic cooperation, the top government spokesman said Wednesday.

Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister in 36 years to visit the Southeast Asian country, which has been opening up after years of military rule. Representatives of around 40 companies will accompany Abe in the hope of securing development project contracts, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

"We will seek to further enhance Japan-Myanmar relations, which have been kept sound for a long time through (Tokyo's) support for reforms" in Myanmar, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

Suga also noted the significant growth potential of Myanmar. "Leaders of other countries are visiting (Myanmar) in a stream," he said, indicating Japan is trying not to be left behind in tapping the developing nation.

After arriving at Yangon on Friday evening, Abe will inspect on Saturday morning the Tirawa special economic zone on the outskirts of the country's largest city, which is scheduled to open in 2015 with a fresh yen loan, the official said.

The prime minister will also speak at a Japan-Myanmar business seminar before holding a dialogue with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi later Saturday. Abe will move to the capital Naypyitaw on Sunday and hold summit talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein.

The two leaders are expected to issue a joint statement, the key pillars of which will be Japanese official development assistance for Myanmar's economic reforms and Tokyo's support for democratization in the country.

During his three-day official visit to the country, which shifted from a military regime to a democratic government in March 2011, Abe will pledge that Tokyo will make all-out efforts to support reforms in Myanmar, the official said.

Japan has been assisting Myanmar with the development of its infrastructure and legal system. Tokyo will also promote national reconciliation between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities to resolve conflicts, he said.

The prime minister is eager to strengthen dialogue on regional affairs and security issues with Myanmar, which will chair meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year, the official added.

At the summit, Abe is also expected to ask Myanmar, which maintains diplomatic ties with North Korea, to cooperate over the issue of Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals and halt military exchanges with the Northeast Asian country.