Updated: Sun, 26 May 2013 07:33:56 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Japan PM holds talks with Myanmar's Thein Sein

Japan's premier met Myanmar's President Thein Sein on Sunday for talks at which he is expected to unveil huge aid and investment deals as he promotes trade with the fast-changing nation.


Japan PM holds talks with Myanmar's Thein Sein

In this photo, released by Myanmar News Agency (MNA) on May 26, 2013, Myanmar's President Thein Sein (R) greets Japan's PM Shinzo Abe at the president's residence office in Naypyidaw.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pledged "all possible assistance" to kick-start Myanmar's long-neglected economy, went into talks with Thein Sein after touching down in Naypyidaw earlier on Sunday, according to a Myanmar government official.

The meeting with Thein Sein, a former general turned reformer, heralds a significant uptick in already warm relations between Japan and Myanmar as reforms and the removal of most Western sanctions spur investment in the former pariah state.

Abe said in Myanmar's state media on Saturday that the first visit by a Japanese premier since 1977 would see "further assistance" to Myanmar.

Abe is tipped to unveil almost $1 billion in development aid and a plan for a nationwide electricity grid as he looks to cement a role for his country in resource-rich and strategically key Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

Tokyo has already made huge strides, last year vowing to forgive 300 billion yen ($3.4 billion) of the 500 billion yen owed by Myanmar.

"Japan's investments in Burma are truly extraordinary, and I think have taken many by surprise," said Myanmar economics expert Sean Turnell, adding he expected an announcement during the trip without giving details.

He said Japan's investment push into Myanmar was both economic and geopolitical, with "rivalry with China" also driving policy.

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 Beijing.

Abe on Saturday visited the Thilawa project -- a 2,400 hectare (6,000 acre) site which will include a port and industrial park -- as part of efforts to promote Japanese firms and infrastructure-building expertise.

The project and associated special economic zone was agreed by the two countries this year and Set Aung, Myanmar's deputy minister of National Planning and Economic Development, said it would create "quick wins" both for local people and Japanese business.

A memorandum of understanding was signed on Saturday for the project between nine Myanmar companies and three from Japan -- including Mitsubishi -- according to English language state-backed newspaper the New Light of Myanmar.

Abe is being accompanied by a 40-strong business delegation of bosses of some of Japan's top companies including Mitsubishi, Mitsui and infrastructure firms Taisei and JGC.

He 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.

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