YANGON—Myanmar’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has invited Japanese investors to seek investment opportunities in Myanmar as she believes that Japan has a deep understanding of the country’s struggle in the Rakhine crisis and peace process.
On Monday, in her keynote speech at the Myanmar Investment Conference in Tokyo, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told Japanese business people, “Please come and visit us, and see for yourselves,” saying that Myanmar has improving economic opportunities and a positive environment for businesses.
She revealed her appreciation for Japan’s understanding and help during a time when tensions have been mounting between Myanmar and the rest of world, during an exclusive interview with NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, on Saturday.
Myanmar recently launched a free-visa system for tourists from Japan, South Korean and China’s Hong Kong and Macau, an effort to counter the significant fall in tourist numbers to the country due to the Rakhine crisis.
The state counselor stressed that Japanese citizens no longer need to apply for Myanmar visas and she encouraged investors to come and see with their own eyes the business opportunities in the country.
The Myanmar government has been making reforms in both politics and the economic sector since the National League for Democracy took office in 2016. The government has introduced new investment laws and the Myanmar Companies Law which will give more confidence to foreign investors, she said.
She said some of the major reforms are less visible, for example, the reform to strengthen macroeconomic management which is essential for economic stability and helps to attract increased investment. Though those reforms are not visible to most people, the impact will become more obvious in the long term.
“The long-term [is] what we are thinking of all the time,” she added.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is currently in Japan for the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit led by Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe. Leaders from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will also attend the conference. The discussion aims to focus on Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region via its Belt and Road Initiative. According to Japan, the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy will promote quality infrastructure development in countries along the Mekong River.
She told attendees that the Myanmar government has announced the “Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan” which includes assortments of 250 smaller plans such as state priorities for national reconciliation, economic transparency, rule of law and good governance.
The government seeks to leave the status of “least developed country” behind by making major economic reforms and reducing poverty in the country. The government has been trying to decrease inflation although it is hard to do, she added.
Economic reforms are a key goal for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in order to complete Myanmar’s democratic transition after almost six decades of isolation under military dictatorship. However, Myanmar has been facing an economic slowdown and decline in foreign direct investment since the country’s image has been badly tarnished by the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State.
In August, the chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission, U Thaung Tun said that foreign investments dropped by nearly $900 million during the 2017-2018 fiscal year compared to 2016-2017.
The state counselor mentioned the importance of political stability during the conference.
She said politics and economics are related and that if there is no political stability, the country will lack of economic stability.
Since Myanmar began to open its economy in 2010, Japan has been actively involved in development projects in the country ranging from financial sector development to railway, road and energy networks. The Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is the first Japan-Myanmar public-private initiative to be implemented here as a 2,342-hectare industrial area outside of Yangon.
Japanese investment in Myanmar reached $252 million in 2012, $55 million in 2013, $1 billion in 2014, $590 million in 2015 and $280 million in 2016. It peaked in 2017 at $1.48 billion. Japan is the 10th largest investor among the foreign investors in Myanmar according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.
During her six-day visit, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has visited Fukushima Prefecture on Sunday to tour a farm, seeking solutions to tackle the serious labor shortage of farm workers in Myanmar. She also visited to the Cocoroya farmers market where a variety of organic vegetables are sold.
The state counselor will attend the 10th Mekong-Japan summit on Tuesday morning. She will hold a bilateral meeting with Japan’s prime minister in the evening. The discussion is expected to focus on government reforms, development, Japan’s infrastructure support, the promotion of people-to-people relations and development aid for Rakhine State.