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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to pledge 60 billion yen (US$580 million) in loans to Burma, chiefly to help it build infrastructure, at an upcoming summit with President Thein Sein, a Japanese government source reportedly told Kyodo News on Thursday.
Abe and Thein Sein, who are to attend a special summit of Japanese and ASEAN leaders beginning on Friday in Tokyo, will also sign a memorandum of understanding on Japanese support for Burmese health and medical sectors at the meeting, which is likely to take place Sunday, the report said.
“Abe promised to provide more than 90 billion yen in loans and grants during his visit to Myanmar [Burma] in May, and the fresh pledge will push total economic aid promised under his administration above 150 billion yen,” Kyodo reported.
Abe is also expected to pledge assistance in public health, agriculture and other areas to boost the living standards of ethnic minorities living near Burma’s border with China and other regions.
The move is an attempt to counterbalance China’s influence in Burma, the government source said, as well as to support Japanese companies as they move into the country, with an emphasis on the Thilawa special economic zone (SEZ), located 25 miles southeast of Rangoon, where Japanese giants Mitsubishi and Sumitomo are among the investors.
A ceremony launching the first phase of the 400-hectare Thilawa SEZ was held on 1 December. Win Aung, chairman of the Myanmar-Thilawa SEZ Holding PCL, said the project is located in a very low-cost area which is very convenient for human resources and transporting manufactured products. He added that basic operations at the SEZ will begin in December while major projects are scheduled to launch by early 2015.
However, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoshihiko Isozaki expressed hesitation among Japanese businesses to invest in Burma, according to civil society group Dawei Project. The report suggested that the success or failure of the Thilawa SEZ could determine the future of Japanese investments in the country. Isozaki vowed that Japanese and Burmese governments will collaborate to provide electricity, water and transportation in the zone.