Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi Visits Japan, Seeking Investment

By Reuters 1 November 2016

Burma’s State Counselor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Japan on Tuesday with the aim of courting investment and aid.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s five-day visit to Japan is the latest in a whirlwind of foreign trips promoting her country as an investment destination. She has already been to China, the United States and India.

Burma could use Japanese investment and robust bilateral ties as a counterweight to China, its largest trading partner.

Japan, for its part, is eager to seek opportunities in meeting Burma’s extensive infrastructure and development needs, a Japanese foreign ministry official told reporters.

During her visit, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. She will also visit Kyoto, where she lived while doing research into her father, Aung San, Burma’s independence hero.

Nearly 50 years of economic mismanagement by a military dictatorship has left the country’s roads, airports and electricity supply shattered. This means there is little homegrown industry and Burma’s recent annual economic growth of 8 percent has been mostly underpinned by imports.

In September, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the United States, President Barack Obama announced he would remove most economic sanctions. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi two weeks ago promised foreign investors a clearer legal framework and opportunities in untapped sectors.

Japan never imposed trade and financial sanctions against the country. As a result, Japan already has a significant presence, centered around the Japan-led Thilawa Special Economic Zone.

Thilawa, a 6,200 acre (2,500-hectare) industrial project on the outskirts of Rangoon, the country’s largest city, is about to begin its second phase of development in November.

In the fiscal year ending in March 2015, Japanese direct investment in Burma totaled $86 million, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Exports from Burma were worth $513 million, mainly clothing and agricultural products, while Burma imports from Japan were worth $1.3 billion, largely cars and machinery.