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Burma and Japan to boost development ties

Burma and Japan have agreed to step up cooperation on development projects, with a special focus on tackling HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the poverty-stricken country, state media reported on Friday.

A delegation of Japanese MPs met on Thursday with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw, where they hashed out plans to boost development assistance for Burma’s woefully neglected health care system.

Tuberculosis cases are estimated to be three times above the global average, while Burma has the third highest HIV infection rate in Asia.

The two countries also discussed strategies for Japan to support Burma during the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in December, and develop the joint Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Rangoon.

Japan has been one of the first developed countries to fully endorse Burma’s democratic reform programme, including writing off nearly US$2 billion in debt in May. The move coincided with a historic visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Burma – the first made by a Japanese leader in 36 years – when fresh aid was also earmarked for the Thilawa project. Last year Tokyo cancelled an additional US$3.4 billion of Burma’s debt.

The Thilawa zone, which is located 25 kilometres south of Rangoon, will be jointly developed by Burma and Japan.

Analysts say Japan has been keen to rekindle its economic relationship with Burma, which is slowly emerging from decades of military rule and diplomatic isolation. Although it never imposed sanctions on Burma, the East Asian powerhouse has significantly stepped up its engagement over the past two years, which some have attributed to an easing of western pressure and a more stable investment climate.

Burma is the poorest country in Southeast Asia and spends less that 4 percent of its annual budget on health care. The Ministry of Health has pledged to scale up assistance for vulnerable patients, including those affected by drug resistant TB and malaria, but limited resources and poor infrastructure has hampered progress.


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