Japan’s extensive development portfolio in Burma has reached the tourist capital of Bagan, with a 10 April agreement to help develop tourism infrastructure over the next three years.
The Japan International Cooperation Association (JICA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Burma’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism on Thursday, pledging technical assistance for development in the ancient city and archeological zone until 2017.
Bagan, in central Burma’s Mandalay Division, is one of the country’s most magnetic tourist attractions. The area is home to more than 2,000 temples and pagodas built during the Pagan Dynasty between the 10th and 14th centuries.
The site has not achieved UNESCO World Heritage site status, largely thought to be because of poor restoration work undertaken by the military junta in the 1990s.
JICA, an independent agency that oversees official development assistance for the Japanese government, has a hand in almost every developmental pot in Burma. Japan is Burma’s largest foreign aid donor, having pledged approximately US$1.5 billion in assistance since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012.
Japan has pledged assistance in various sectors, including an 8 billion yen (US$78.5 million) health package and myriad infrastructure projects.
JICA has announced plans to draft a comprehensive 30-year master plan for Burma’s former capital and financial centre, Rangoon, similar to a plan devised to urbanise the Lao capital of Vientiane.
The agency has also been an advocate for the development of deregulated trade hubs in Burma, serving an advisory role for Burma’s legislature as they drafted the country’s first Special Economic Zone Law, passed by Burma’s newly formed parliament in January 2011, just before a wave of reforms swept the country.
Among the principal prospectors in Burma’s new deregulated zones, Japanese companies have thus far placed bids on several manufacturing opportunities in the Thilawa SEZ, primarily for car manufacturing, with Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota all submitting tenders.
In October 2013, JICA concluded a survey of southeastern Burma which recommended the development of additional infrastructure connecting the Dawei SEZ in southern Tenasserim Division with Thilawa. JICA’s report met with criticism from civil society groups, who rejected claims that planning was inclusive of the region’s many ethnic minority voices.
Japan is Burma’s tenth largest investor, having channeled more than US$300 million into the private sector by the end of 2013.