Among the Southeast Asian countries, Myanmar was the first country to conclude a peace treaty with Japan after World War II, facilitating Japan’s return to the international community. Tateshi Higuchi, Ambassador, reflects on the 60+ years of bilateral relations and discusses current projects and future perspectives.
European Times: What are some of the milestones of the bilateral cooperation between Japan and Myanmar?
Tateshi Higuchi: Following World War II, Japan provided development assistance aimed at boosting Myanmar’s economic growth and improving the living standard of its population. One such symbolic project was the construction of Baluchaung (2) Hydro Power Plant, which provided significant amount of electricity in Myanmar for more than half a century. After the newly-elected Myanmar government initiated political reforms towards democracy in 2011, Japan strongly encouraged the international community to enhance economic assistance and played a leading role in clearing Myanmar’s arrears amongst other donors, which was one of the major obstacles against real economic development.
European Times: How would you describe the economic cooperation and the trade relations between the two countries?
Tateshi Higuchi: During his visit of Myanmar, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida promised support and economic assistance mainly in areas of job creation, health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, budget and finance, and securing sustainable development between rural and urban areas.
Japan supports Myanmar’s economy in three pillars: assistance for improvement of people’s livelihoods; assistance for capacity building and institutional development to sustain economy and society; and assistance for development of infrastructure and related systems necessary for the sustainable economic development. We already developed the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Myanmar, and by now 79 companies signed up for investments and 17 companies already commenced operation. Thilawa SEZ aims to spur the development of the manufacturing industry, including the neighbouring local businesses; we will provide necessary support related to fundamental infrastructure, such as capacity building, electricity and transportation.
During the first three-quarters in 2015 fiscal year, Japan’s FDI in Myanmar doubled to US$197 million, compared to 2014 when statistics of the Central Statistical Organization (CSO), Ministry of Planning and Finance in February 2016 show FDI in the amount of US$86 million. In the first three-quarters, export was US$267 million and import US$1.1 billion, but taking into account the several negative effects, including those caused by the flood, the figures are still as healthy as those of 2014, when export was US$556 million and import was US$1.7 billion. The number of Japanese companies operating in Myanmar has increased to 315 and we expect massive increase in trade and FDI from Japan.
European Times: What is your personal message?
Tateshi Higuchi: In order to enable Myanmar’s successful transition and economic development, it is quintessential to support the newly-elected Government in various segments together with private sectors. Japan, like the EU, is a vital adherent of Myanmar’s democratization process, human rights enhancement and national reconciliation. Europe is also an important partner with Japan, sharing the common values of democracy, rule of law and human rights. From this perspective, Japan together with European countries would like to continue to support Myanmar.