2011/12/25

Japan foreign minister heads to Myanmar

TOKYO, December 25, 2011 (AFP) - Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Sunday left for Myanmar, in the latest high-profile diplomatic trip looking to encourage reforms in the isolated nation, Tokyo's public broadcaster reported.

Gemba's visit, the first by a Japanese foreign minister since 2002, comes as as Tokyo considers resuming official development aid as part of international efforts to engage Myanmar's new military-backed civilian government.

Gemba plans to meet with President Thein Sein and other top officials, and also democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Kyodo News reported citing an unnamed government source.

Unlike major Western nations, Japan has maintained trade ties and dialogue with Myanmar and warned that a hardline approach could push Myanmar closer to neighbouring China, its main political supporter and commercial partner.

Gemba is expected to propose negotiations on a bilateral investment accord in his meetings with officials, Kyodo said.

Japan has continued to provide humanitarian and emergency aid to the country, but halted regular economic assistance in 2003 following the arrest and subsequent detention of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's new nominally civilian government has rolled out a series of reformist measures since it took office as the former generals who dominate it have sought to reach out to political opponents and the West.

Suu Kyi was freed in November 2010 from seven years of house arrest, and has re-registered her previously banned opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) as a political party, clearing the way for her to take part in elections.

Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar earlier this month in the first trip there by a US Secretary of State in more than 50 years.