By Francis Wade
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Monday urged Burma to push forward its reform process, as the two nations agreed to launch talks on a bilateral investment accord, a report said.
Gemba, the first Japanese foreign minister to visit Burma since 2002, met President Thein Sein and his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in the country’s remote capital of Naypyidaw, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.
During the meeting, Gemba expressed Japan’s readiness to assist Burma in transforming itself into a democratic country and reducing poverty, especially in rural areas, Kyodo said.
“This visit will be a big turning point for Japan-Burma relations,” Gemba told Wunna Maung Lwin, according to Kyodo, as they sat down for talks in the capital.
Gemba urged more progress on reforms, which have so far seen the new nominally civilian government release some political prisoners and ease restrictions on the media and business, Kyodo said.
The Burmese foreign minister vowed to free some of those being held, it said.
Gemba also asked that Japan and Burma begin negotiations on an investment treaty, which would create an easier environment for Japanese companies to do business in the country, Kyodo said.
Unlike major Western nations, Japan has maintained trade ties and dialogue with Burma, warning a hardline approach could push it closer to neighbouring China, its main political supporter and commercial partner.
A week after the abrupt announcement of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death, Gemba pressed Burmese officials to break off military and suspected nuclear links with Pyongyang, Kyodo said.
Gemba later met iconic pro-democracy figure Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon and extended an offer that she visit Japan in the near future, Kyodo said.
“Japan will continue to do what it can do for Myanmar’s national reconciliation to take hold,” Kyodo quoted Gemba as saying after their meeting.
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.
Burmese 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 Burma earlier this month in the first trip there by a US Secretary of State in more than 50 years.