Burmese President Thein Sein arrived in Japan yesterday on the latest stage in his country’s journey back to international respectability.
The visit will include talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is reportedly set to announce that Japan will forgive Myanmar’s ￥300 billion (US$3.7 billion) debt and is ready to restart a suspended assistance program.
On a five day trip, Thein Sein is scheduled to meet top Japanese business leaders and visit thermal power plants, as well as take part in a six-way Japan-Mekong summit today.
The meeting groups hosts Japan with five Mekong delta nations — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Japan-Myanmar summit at which the reported debt waiver is expected to be announced is scheduled for today.
The visit comes as Japan and other economic powers are looking to encourage the potentially resource-rich nation in its gradual democratic transition from a junta-controlled regime.
Myanmar has come in from the global cold since polls last year saw the election of a nominally civilian government.
Earlier this month, democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament and international sanctions on the regime are increasingly being relaxed.
Japan has recently dispatched top officials, including the foreign and industry ministers along with business leaders, to Myanmar, which has rich natural gas reserves as well as strong fisheries and agricultural potential.
After US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton went to the country in December, scores of Western dignitaries have visited the nation, while Beijing has also exerted its military and economic influence.
British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the former British colony earlier this month, becoming the first Western leader to go there since the junta took power in 1962.
Thein Sein, who is the first leader of the former dictatorship to visit Japan in 28 years, is also set to meet Japan’s Emperor Akihito during a royal tea ceremony with other regional leaders.
Unlike major Western nations, Japan maintained trade ties and dialogue with Myanmar during its years of isolation, warning a hard line on the then-ruling junta could push it closer to China, its key ally and commercial partner.
Since taking office in March last year, Thein Sein has traveled overseas several times to attend regional summits in Indonesia and Cambodia, as well as for bilateral talks with neighboring China and India.
Thein Sein visited Japan as prime minister in 2009 for a Japan-Mekong summit.