Myanmar and its one-time biggest benefactor, Japan, agreed to talks on a bilateral investment treaty and took other steps toward better relations as Japanese Foreign Minister Kocihiro Gemba visited on Monday.
Gemba said afterward Japan wants to help Myanmar fight poverty that grips the country and was pleased they agreed to talks on an treaty to protect Japanese investments.
The first Japanese foreign minister to visit Myanmar in nine years, Gemba met Burmese President Thein Sein and other government officials in the capital, Naypyidaw, then later talked to pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.
Aung San Suu Kyi stressed the importance of Japan’s aid reaching ethnic minority areas where it is most needed, according to Gemba. Aung San Suu Kyi said she also asked Japan to consider strengthening Myanmar’s democratic institutions.
Japan was Myanmar’s largest aid donor until it cut most funds in 2003 after pro-junta thugs attacked Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade on a political organizing trip in northwestern Myanmar. The military government then placed her under house arrest, which ended in November last year.
Japan has continued small amounts of humanitarian grassroots aid for the health and education sectors and has also maintained some trade ties with Myanmar since then. The aid was allotted without violating Western sanctions against Myanmar, and Japan did not impose sanctions on its own.
However, Gemba’s visit is considered a reopening of better ties between the countries with a long history. In his meeting with government officials, Japan also offered increased economic help for the education and agriculture sectors.
His visit follows several nations that have sent officials to Myanmar after its new, nominally civilian government made political reforms this year.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited earlier this month.
Yingluck, after meeting with Thein Sein, became the first prime minister from the Southeast Asia region to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.
Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi formally registered her party for any upcoming elections, returning the Nobel laureate to the political arena and winning plaudits from her political rivals in Myanmar’s military-dominated parliament.