Japan to offer 91 bil. yen in fresh aid to Myanmar, waive debts

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday pledged 91 billion yen in fresh aid to Myanmar, while waiving some 190 billion yen in debts, in a bid to support the rapidly democratizing Southeast Asian country's growth.

During the first visit to the country by a Japanese premier in 36 years, Abe and Myanmar President Thein Sein agreed to lay "a new foundation for mutual friendship" by boosting cooperation in economic, political and security areas, as well as interpersonal and cultural exchanges, according to their joint statement.

During their summit talks, Abe called for "jump-starting" bilateral ties, which had been somewhat "frozen" until the country shifted from military rule to a democratic government in March 2011, and taking the relationship to a higher level, Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko said.

Following the summit, the two leaders exchanged notes on Tokyo's waiver of the remaining debt and provision of some 51 billion yen in fresh loans to help Myanmar's infrastructure development as well as up to 40 billion yen in grant and technical assistance in fiscal 2013.

Of the 51 billion yen, 20 billion yen will be spent to build necessary infrastructure for the Tilawa special economic zone near Yangon, which will be developed by a Japan-Myanmar joint venture by 2015.

With Japan cancelling the 190 billion yen in debts, Myanmar's outstanding loans amounting to a total of about 500 billion yen will be cleared. The two countries agreed on the treatment of the Southeast Asian country's debt in April last year, with Tokyo becoming the first creditor to take debt relief measures.

Japan and Myanmar decided at that time the remaining debt would be cleared after one year, conditional on Myanmar continuing its reform efforts. Myanmar had been delinquent in its repayments to Japan.

Abe said Japan's public and private sectors would together support Myanmar's efforts to promote the nation's democratization, the rule of law, economic reforms and national reconciliation between the Myanmar government and ethnic minorities to resolve conflicts.

Abe and Thein Sein also shared the intention to work toward the early signing of a bilateral accord on investment and technical cooperation.

As for bilateral political and security cooperation, the two leaders decided to enhance dialogue on security and regional issues as well as promote cooperation and exchange between their defense authorities.

Abe told Thein Sein that Japan believes it is important to deepen cooperation with Myanmar, which is sandwiched between China and India and will chair meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014, to secure stability in the region, according to Seko.

The premier also said Japan intends to invite about 1,000 Myanmar youths to bolster interpersonal exchanges between the two countries.

As part of Japan's support for the Southeast Asian Games, a biennial ASEAN sports event to be hosted by Myanmar in December, Abe said well-known Japanese fashion designer Junko Koshino will provide official uniform to athletes of the country at the request of Thein Sein.

The Japanese leader also asked the Myanmar president to investigate the death of Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai, who was shot dead while filming pro-democracy protests in Yangon in 2007.