The following is an interview with Mr. Kentaro Sonoura, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan (National Security) who is visiting Myanmar on February 7 and 8.
Q: What sort of cooperation is Japan providing to Myanmar?
A: Japan is supporting consolidation of democracy, national reconciliation and economic development of Myanmar, regarding it as its long-standing friend, by bringing together its public and private sectors. We are aiming to provide support, focusing on the three areas; Yangon’s urban development; transportation; and electricity so that Myanmar people can actually feel a sense of improvements of their living conditions by 2020.
It is important to improve connectivity within the country as well as with neighboring countries for realizing economic development. First, Japan is carrying out rehabilitation of the Yangon Circular Railway and will start the preparatory surveys for construction of the North-South and East-West Urban Railway Lines in order to improve the efficiency of transport and logistics around Yangon. We will also implement rehabilitation of the Yangon-Mandalay Railway and the improvement of the inland water transportation between Yangon and Mandalay, as to enhance the connectivity between rural areas and urban areas as well as overseas. Furthermore, we have provided support for introducing an electronic customs system and are assisting construction of the East-West Economic Corridor connecting the border with Thailand to Yangon, in order to facilitate logistics in the entire Mekong region, including Myanmar. It is expected that Thilawa Special Economic Zone, the symbol of the cooperation between the public and private sectors of Japan and Myanmar, will play an important role as a trigger for economic development by connecting Myanmar’s economy with the world economy, in addition to inviting foreign investment, fostering industries and creating jobs.
Furthermore, achieving national reconciliation is an indispensable factor for consolidating Myanmar’s development and ensuring regional stability. Japan is supporting Myanmar’s peace process, together with Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, through facilitating dialogue between the stakeholders involved as well as providing reconstruction and development assistance to the areas, including Kayin State, where ceasefire has been achieved.
Tatmadaw has an important role in consolidation of democracy in Myanmar. Japan is conducting defense cooperation and exchange through accepting cadets from Tatmadaw in the National Defense Academy of Japan, exchanging officers and supporting capacity building for various areas including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), hoping that Tatmadaw can draw the experiences from the Japan Self-Defense Forces positioned in our democratic system.
During my visit to Myanmar, I will attend the opening ceremony of the HA/DR seminar held by Ministry of Defense of Japan and the Japan Self-Defense Forces for Tatmadaw today.
Q: What sort of cooperation is Japan carrying out in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole?
A : Japan has been contributing to the regional stability and prosperity through utilizing various means including Official Development Assistance (ODA). We regard that the Indo-Pacific region, including the ASEAN, has big populations and an economic dynamism and is the core of the world’s vitality. Japan is promoting the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” in order to maintain the free and open Indo-Pacific, based on the rule of law, the international public goods bringing stability and prosperity in the whole region.
This strategy consists of the following three pillars: (i) promoting and establishing freedom of navigation and the rule of law (ii) pursuing economic prosperity by improving connectivity with quality infrastructure development in accordance with international standards and (iii) securing peace and stability through capacity-building in the areas of maritime law enforcement and disaster prevention.
Especially, Japan has made efforts improve, not only physical connectivity including ports, railways and roads, but also human connectivity and system connectivity, in cooperation with Indo-Pacific nations, including Myanmar. In the context of Japan-Mekong cooperation, we have discussed priority projects and issues and contributed to project formation through the Connectivity Initiative. For developing infrastructure, we will give due consideration to profitability and safety as well as social and environmental impacts and focus on creating employment and building capacities through implementing projects. Furthermore, in addition to ensuring the coherence to the recipient country’s financial soundness and the economic development strategy, we are promoting the development of “quality infrastructure” in accordance with the international standards for ensuring freedom of access by those in need of infrastructure. We believe that several projects involved by Japan, such as the abovementioned Thilawa Special Economic Zone and the East-West Economic Corridor, can generate a sense of improvement among Myanmar people.
Japan has also been implementing capacity building assistance for maritime law enforcement, disaster prevention and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), in order to ensure safety of maritime transportation routes and to maintain maritime order based on rule of law.
Q : How is Myanmar positioned in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”?
A: Japan is a longtime friend of Myanmar and is determined to provide full-fledged support for Myanmar’s democratic nation building, as Myanmar went through a historical turning point two years ago. We understand that consolidation of democracy and sustenance of development in Myanmar is directly linked to stability and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific region, including the Mekong and ASEAN regions.
Japan also regards Myanmar, located in the conjunction between Southeast Asia and South Asia, as a key in promoting the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”. Therefore, Myanmar is an important country for Japan. We will carry out cooperation in line with the abovementioned three pillars in order that this strategy can fully contribute to Myanmar’s development.
We believe that our cooperation can facilitate and invigorate the comings and goings of people and things along the route leading to India, the Middle East and Africa in the westward, and Mekong countries, South China Sea and Pacific in the eastward, and promote economic development of the whole region. Japan highly values the possibility of Myanmar’s growth and is committed to advance along with Myanmar.