Japan’s premier agreed on Saturday to press on with work on a major industrial zone near Yangon on a visit to Myanmar aimed at deepening economic ties with the former junta-ruled nation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Myanmar officials at the Thilawa project on the first day of a trip promoting Japanese business in a country which desperately needs investment and infrastructure to drive a much-anticipated economic revival.
“Thilawa SEZ [special economic zone] is a milestone in the relationship between the two governments and the private sector,” said Set Aung, Myanmar’s deputy minister of National Planning and Economic Development.
“This will create quick wins for the people of Myanmar and Japanese businessmen,” in terms of jobs and much-needed “technical assistance”, he added.
An environmental impact assessment on the 2,400 hectare project, which will include a port and industrial park, will be completed in August, he said.
Japan and Myanmar in December agreed to start work this year on the Thilawa project with the zone due to be up and running in 2015.
Abe follows in the footsteps of other world leaders who have flocked to the former pariah state since it was welcomed back to the international community after a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011.
In the first visit by a Japanese premier since 1977, Abe is seeking to cement a role for his country in resource-rich and strategically key Myanmar, whose untouched markets have caught the eye of global investors.
Unlike its Western allies, Japan maintained trade ties and dialogue with Myanmar during junta rule which ended in 2011, saying a hard line could push it closer to China.
During his trip Abe, is also expected to unveil almost US$1 billion in development aid and a plan for a nationwide electricity grid as part of a strategy to tout Japanese infrastructure firms around the world.
He is being accompanied by a 40-strong business delegation bosses of some of Japan’s top companies including trading houses Mitsubishi, Mitsui and infrastructure firms Taisei and JGC.
Before the signing ceremony Abe laid wreaths at Yangon’s Martyrs’ mausoleum - where the tombs of independence leaders including General Aung San - Aung San Suu Kyi’s father - who were assassinated in 1947.
He was due to speak to business leaders before meeting democracy champion Suu Kyi and then travelling to the capital Naypyidaw for a summit with President Thein Sein on Sunday.