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Japan Says Burma Key to Mekong Region Development


ASEAN foreign ministers and their representatives hold hands during a group photo session of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2011.

ASEAN foreign ministers and their representatives hold hands during a group photo session of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2011.

Democratic progress in Burma is already opening up new possibilities for investment and assistance that could benefit the region and the global economy.

At the ASEAN summit Wednesday, Japanese Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kimihiro Ishikane said his country is providing Burma with official development assistance for basic human needs, following the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. And, he said Japan is hopeful that further political reforms will yield increased investment and assistance.

“We are not at the stage to resume our full fledge cooperation with Myanmmar [Burma]. So we are cautiously observing and following the positive development which is now taking place in Myanmar," Ishikane noted. "But we are definitely ready to support the current path the Myanmar government is taking in many ways.”

The Japanese deputy minister's words of encouragement for Burma followed support from Southeast Asian foreign ministers for Burma to take the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member ASEAN organization in 2014.

Ishikane says it is in the economic interests of Burma, the region and the world for Burma to release political prisoners and allow opposition parties to fully participate in the political system.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says the overall Southeast Asia region is experiencing strong economic growth and is attracting trade and investment opportunities from Japan, the United States and European countries.

"Our economic development is robust and the mass of the current global financial turmoil will continue to show [our] resilience we are confident of reaching between 5.7 to 6.4 percent growth this year. Complemented by an enormous market, a stable exchange rate and peaceful regional situation. ASEAN remains an attractive place for business and investment," Yudhoyono said.

Ishikane says one of the vulnerabilities of ASEAN is the lack of infrastructure. In the case of Burma, he says the poor conditions and economic isolation are preventing the Mekong region from opening a direct trade route to India.

“There are a lot of roads and ports but they are not really usable for the outlet of the commodities which are produced in other parts of Mekong. If this missing part [could] be completed, this connect, this ASEAN and especially Mekong with India and this will will give an outlet via avoiding the Malacca strait, it goes straight ahead to the Indian [Ocean].” Ishikan stated.

He says Japan provides ASEAN with almost $20 billion in development loans for infrastructure projects and would like to direct more of that money to Burma, if it embraces significant and sustained democratic reforms.

The country has released some political prisoners, relaxed media controls and pushed through some pro-democratic political reforms in the past year. But western nations have called on the government to make more concrete steps toward political reforms.

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