YANGON—Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday pledged Japan’s continued support for Myanmar’s democratic transition and its efforts to resolve the Rakhine crisis.
Abe made the comments at a joint news conference following a bilateral meeting with Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the State Guest House in Tokyo.
“Although this is a complicated and serious issue, Japan will work together with Myanmar and support the Myanmar government’s efforts to resolve it,” Abe told reporters regarding the Rakhine issue.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she and Abe had discussed the conditions in Rakhine. Describing Japan as a good friend to Myanmar, she said she believed Tokyo wants to see a peaceful Rakhine that can enjoy long-term sustainable development.
The State Counselor stressed that she appreciated Japan’s open, “straightforward” discussion of its concerns about Rakhine State.
“If we discuss the problem in a straightforward way, the problem will be resolved quickly,” she said.
In 2017, the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) launched a clearance operation in Rakhine following a series of attacks on security posts there. The operation drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh from western Rakhine State. The Myanmar government and U.N. agencies have since signed a repatriation agreement to facilitate the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar.
The U.N. has described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, and human rights groups have pushed the U.N. to prosecute the military’s senior leadership at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
In July, the Myanmar government formed the Independent Commission of Enquiry for Rakhine to investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues. The body includes two international experts—former Japanese Ambassador to the U.N. Kenzo Oshima and Philippine diplomat Rosario Manalo.
Abe stressed during the meeting that the commission needed to take a correct and precise approach, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.
She added that she believes “It is vital that the independent panel conduct a correct and appropriate investigation.”
The commission has been given “extensive powers” to investigate the issue, she said.
The State Counselor has been on a six-day visit to Japan to attend the Mekong-Japan Summit, which wrapped up on Wednesday. The Tokyo summit was also attended by the leaders of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. After the summit, all of the Mekong leaders held individual meetings with Abe.
At his bilateral meeting with the State Counselor, Abe promised that the Japanese government and private sector would help Myanmar with its transition into a democratic nation.
Abe said during the bilateral meeting, “We highly value State Counselor [Daw] Aung San Suu Kyi’s effort over two-and-a-half years to carry out economic reforms, achieve peace in the country and improve the situation in Rakhine State.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi replied: “As Prime Minister Abe just said, we put priority on the economy, peace and the Rakhine State issue. Our effort must be sustainable; we appreciate Japan’s cooperation in dealing with those issues.”
According to Kyodo News, Abe promised more than 70 billion yen (about USD618 million) in low-interest loans for development projects to improve sewage, drainage, traffic, roads and sidewalks in Yangon. The two leaders also discussed about 800 billion yen in assistance that Tokyo has been distributing since 2016.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi added that her meetings with Japanese investors during the trip promised to be of benefit to the Myanmar people.
“We discussed Japan’s development projects, which are showing progress. These projects are giving much support to our country’s development,” she added.
The two leaders did not take questions from reporters during the conference, according to Kyodo.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, is struggling with international criticism from Western officials and human rights activists over what they see as her insufficient response to crimes committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. However, Japan is playing a mediator role in the repatriation processes and is closely working with the Myanmar government to solve the problems in Rakhine state.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono has visited Myanmar twice this year; his trips have focused on discussions of the resettlement of Rohingya and humanitarian aid to Rakhine state.
In January, Tokyo extended Emergency Grant Aid of 330 million yen (USD3 million) to Myanmar to assist displaced persons returning from Bangladesh.
“I appreciate the stance of Japan” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.
She visited Fukushima Prefecture on Sunday to tour a farm and learn about possible solutions to the serious shortage of farm workers in Myanmar.
On Monday, she attended the Myanmar Investment Conference in Tokyo, and invited Japanese investors to seek opportunities in Myanmar. She referred to Japan’s deep understanding of the country’s struggle to resolve the Rakhine crisis and advance the peace process.
In an exclusive interview with Japanese national broadcaster NHK on Saturday, she offered appreciation for Japan’s understanding and help at a time when tensions have been mounting between Myanmar and the rest of world.
“It’s the understanding that’s more important than the actual help. Help that is meaningful comes from a true understanding of the situation,” she said.
She was hopeful that Japan’s support would help bridge the gap in understanding between Myanmar and the international community.
Recently, the Canadian Parliament decided to strip Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship due to what a spokesman described as her “persistent refusal to denounce the Rohingya genocide.”
During the interview with NHK, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, “I don’t care about prizes and honors as such. I’m sorry that friends are not as steadfast as they might be. Because I think friendship means understanding; basically, trying to understand rather than to just make your own judgment. But prizes come and prizes go.”
The State Counselor added that there is no quick fix for the Rakhine crisis, saying, “There are many people who do not even realize what the situation in Rakhine State alone is like. Let alone in the whole of Myanmar. But these days, it’s always quick fixes and instant gratification. Everything has to be done immediately and quickly. But we can’t afford to do that, because we have to cope with the consequences in the long run.”
Tokyo Strategy 2018
On Tuesday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi participated in the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting in Tokyo.
Led by the Japanese prime minister, the leaders of five Southeast Asian nations—Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos—attend the summit, which has convened annually since 2009.
The discussion focused 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. The strategy is aimed at promoting quality infrastructure development in countries along the Mekong River.
During the summit, the leaders adopted the Tokyo Strategy 2018, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The strategy’s goal is to create a strategic development partnership between Japan and the Mekong River region that strengthens connectivity, boosts human resources and increases environmental protections. The main objective is to develop high-quality infrastructure in the Mekong Region by 2030.
According to The Japan Times, the Mekong leaders agreed that Tokyo’s strategy was beneficial for both Japan and the Mekong countries.
“Myanmar itself …. [has] benefited from over 16 bilateral projects and 100 multilateral projects as part of the Mekong-Japan cooperation,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said during the leaders’ joint press conference after the summit, according to the newspaper.
According to a joint statement, Japan has invested more than 2 trillion yen in the region during the past three years. Japan will continue to support the development of quality infrastructure in the Mekong region through public funds, overseas loans, investment and official development assistance, it said.