The following is an exclusive interview with Mr Maruyama Ichiro, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Q: It is only a few months away, the General Election will be held in Myanmar. Transition to Myanmar’s democracy is facing many difficulties, including peace and Rakhine issue. So how will Japan continue to stand for Myanmar’s democratic transition?
A:In Myanmar, transition to democracy began in 2015. The 2015 General Election became a free and fair one. Myanmar deserves appreciation for that achievement. I would like to express my deepest respect to the people of Myanmar and all those who have worked hard over the years to overcome various difficulties in building a democratic nation in Myanmar. I am convinced that the upcoming General Election in November 2020 will be conducted in a free and fair manner.
Japan has no change in its position of fully supporting Myanmar’s democratic nation-building through the partnership of the public and private sectors. Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Mr Motegi will visit Myanmar from August 24 to 25 in order to directly reiterate such Japan’s firm position. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Myanmar People, Myanmar Government, and Myanmar Tatmadaw for warmly welcoming the first visit of Japan’s Foreign Minister while still facing difficulties due to COVID-19.
Myanmar is facing many challenges, especially peace issue. This is a very complex issue. That is why, the Government of Japan has appointed Mr Sasakawa Yohei, the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar for the peace process. As part of his mission, he came to Myanmar, and met with leaders of the ethnic armed organizations, the State Counsellor and the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services.The Government of Japan, together with Mr Sasakawa Yoheiwill continue to support the Myanmar Government to achieve peace and ceasefire in Myanmar. Another one is Rakhine State issue, which is very complex as well. In this context too, the Government of Japan will stand together with the Myanmar Government and Myanmar people and will continue to cooperate with them. We will provide assistance to Myanmar as and when required.Japan will continue to cooperate with the Myanmar Government in tackling challenges being faced by Myanmar, including peace issue and Rakhine State issue.
Q. To recover economy after COVID – 19, Myanmar will have to rely heavily on investment as a developing country after COVID -19. We expect Japanese investors to come and invest here. How can you get investors to come, Your Excellency?
A:Japanese business community has been very much interested in doing business in Myanmar. With such an ardor, we held the Myanmar-Japan Investment Dialogue via videoconference on July 29 this year. The conference was attended by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Union Minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations U Thaung Tun and Deputy Minister U Sett Aung from the Myanmar side. From the Japan side, over1,500 Japanese business persons attended the forum. This shows how much interest and enthusiasm the Japanese business community has in making investments in Myanmar.
Myanmar deserves praise for having been able to control the COVID-19 outbreak successfully. Myanmar Government brought back its nationals stranded in Japan due to COVID-19 by relief flight. Some Japanese business persons were authorized to take the same flight to return to Myanmar.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Myanmar Government for helping Japanese business community to return to Myanmar. The Government of Japan will provide necessary assistance to Myanmar to develop economy through the ODA. For the development of Myanmar’s economy, investments of Japanese business community are important. Therefore, the Embassy of Japan will continue to strive to attract investments from Japan to Myanmar.
Q: Prime Minister Abe Shinzo paid an official visit to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar from May 24 to 26 in 2013, which was the first visit by a Japanese Prime Minister in 36 years. Please let us know about Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s current support to the efforts of Government of Myanmar towards democratization, prevalence of the rule of law, economic reforms and national reconciliation.
A:The relationship between Prime Minister of Japan Mr Abe Shinzo and Myanmar began in March 1983 when he first visited Myanmar as aide to the then Foreign Minister of Japan Mr Abe Shintaro, Prime Minister’s father. Since then, he has visited Myanmar many times and he feels very close to Myanmar and the people of Myanmar. Assistance for the construction of elementary schools in his personal capacity shows his affections to Myanmar.
During State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s official visit to Japan in 2016, Prime Minister Abe promised at the bilateral meeting to contribute 800 billion yen (US$ 8 billion) over five years for Myanmar’s nation-building at public and private levels, for which Japan will cooperate with Myanmar. Gaining momentum by the visit of Foreign Minister Motegi to Myanmar next week, Japan will further cooperate with Myanmar in various sectors such as peace, democratic transition, health, education and development of human resources.
Q:Japan and Myanmar have laid historically strong partnership foundation (Special Relationship) since the outbreak of World War II. So, let us know about your views on how you will improve bilateral relations since you become Japanese Ambassador in Myanmar.
A: Whenever I am asked this question, I always answer that we, Japan and Japanese people owe a debt of gratitude to Myanmar and its people. Japan gave trouble to Myanmar during World War-II. But, when Japanese soldiers retreated from Myanmar after they had been defeated in the war, Myanmar people helped them much. Myanmar people to whom Japan gave trouble helped the Japanese troops. This is quite a remarkable story.
In addition, Myanmar was the first country in the world to conclude the Treaty of Peace and the Agreement for reparations and economic cooperation with Japan after WWII, which allowed Japan to follow the path of post-war reconstruction. As Myanmar signed the treaty, other countries followed suit. After WWII, Japan was facing severe food shortage during the reconstruction period. Myanmar generously continued to provide rice to Japan for as long as over 10 years. Up until now, the Japanese people have always been grateful to Myanmar and the Myanmar people for their kindness.
I was assigned to the Embassy of Japan in Yangon five times. It means I have been working in Myanmar for 25 years. The current period is totally different from that of my first assignment. Now is the crucial time for Myanmar’s politics and economy. In this regard, I feel that the time is ripe for the Government and people of Japan to work hard as a good friend.
We hope Mr Motegi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, will have good discussions with Myanmar leaders for further collaboration when they hold face-to-face meetings during his first visit to Myanmar as Foreign Minister on August 24 and 25.
Q: Myanmar is production-based country and also considered as potential market in the future. I would like to know your Excellency’s efforts to enhance economic cooperation between Japan and Myanmar which will benefit both countries.
A: Our Prime Minister pledged that the Government of Japan will contribute JPY 800 billion to Myanmar in 2016. When it comes to making this pledge, we designated three sectors. The first sector focuses on transport including railway, airport and port infrastructure. The second sector is electricity and energy which are indispensable for industry. The third sector is the development of Yangon City. We will provide assistance to Myanmar for the development of this commercial city.
Remarkable success achieved by Japan in cooperation with Myanmar is Thilawa Special Economic Zone. More than 100 local and foreign companies are building factories in the Thilawa SEZ. They are still operating without a halt during COVID-19 pandemic. We are working hard to bring benefits from the Thilawa SEZ to Myanmar.
Thilawa SEZ will ensure that Myanmar gains technology and experiences so that Myanmar can work self-reliantly.
Q: I would like to know Japanese Government’s assistance in Poverty Reduction in Myanmar, Regional Development of Ethnic Minorities, Human Resource Development, Political, Economic and Social Organizations Development, Infrastructure Development and Sustainable Development.
A:As I said recently, transport plays an important role to develop economy in Myanmar. For example, the two governments are working together on the development of the Yangon-Mandalay Railway with the ODA loan from Japan. In Yangon, the Yangon Circular Railway is being upgraded.
Another important sector is education. There are no basic education schools in some rural areas. School buildings are also constructed underJapan’s poverty eradication project.
Q:May I know Japanese Government’s assistance to Myanmar in the COVID-19 response?
A: We made donation of medical equipment to Myanmar. The Government of Japan is planning to contribute JPY 30 billion not only for health sector but also for the economic recovery in order to support such efforts of the Government of Myanmar as COVID-19 hits the global economy. Mr Motegi, Foreign Minister of Japan, during his visit to Myanmar, will hold talks with Myanmar leaders on cooperation to resume travel between the two countries and measures to enhance cooperation in various sectors including the project to control COVID-19 outbreak.
Q: The Thilawa Special Economic Zone, set up with the help from Japanese Government, performs business in process and the State Counsellor also lauded its success. She urged other industrial zones to emulate or take the example from Thilawa Special Economic Zone.Please share the successful achievements, challenges and difficulties which concern with Thilawa Special Economic Zone. What are the chances for further investments from Japan and International Community to Thilawa Special Economic Zone?
A:The Thilawa SEZ is a successful symbol of cooperation between the two countries.
More than 100 factories are being constructed and half of them are Japanese factories. For example, Suzuki Myanmar Motor is manufacturing cars. Toyota Myanmar is planning to manufacture cars next year. There will be no change of plan in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. We wish technology and management of Japanese companies in Thilawa SEZ will help Myanmar companies to operate self-reliantly.
Another one is what State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi proposed at the Myanmar-Japan Investment Dialogue held via videoconference on 29 July. She proposed an idea of establishing a special economic zone in Mon State. We are very much interested in it and considering it seriously. This project will be significant because of its proximity to the East-West Corridor, to Thailand as well as to Yangon and good road transport. If the Government of Myanmar is willing to implement this project, the Government of Japan will consider seriously to work on this project together with Japanese business community.Gaining momentum by the visit of Mr Motegi to Myanmar, the Embassy of Japan, together with the Myanmar Government, would like to consider how we can cooperate to draw on the success of Thilawa SEZ.
Q: Do you have any messages to Myanmar?
A:We highly appreciate the cooperative efforts of the Government of Myanmar and the people for the development of the country amidst COVID-19. In Japan, Myanmar is greatly respected as a good friend. Therefore, the Embassy of Japan in Yangon and the Government of Japan will strive to boost bilateral relations including political, economic and cultural relations.—GNLM