Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that he intends to visit Burma “soon” to hold a summit with President Thein Sein, according to Kyodo News.
In making the announcement Abe stressed that the trip would focus on helping Burma’s economic development.
“I will not hold back from any cooperation” in helping Burma to develop, Abe said on Friday, as Kyodo News reported. He added that “Myanmar is a friend from long ago and a pro-Japanese country.”
Although Japan has stepped up cooperation with most of Southeast Asia since Abe’s term began last December, Burma has been getting especially strong attention from Tokyo.
Just days after returning to power, Abe dispatched Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso to Burma’s capital city of Naypyitaw to hold a meeting with President Thein Sein. During the visit, Aso pledged that Tokyo would increase its investment in the country.
In February the two countries held their first ever human rights dialogue in the Burmese capital. The following month, Japan announced that it would start providing Burma with yen-denominated loans. Then, last month in Tokyo Abe hosted Burma’s leading opposition figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with leaders of the nation’s ethnic minorities.
While Abe didn’t offer a specific date for his upcoming trip, The Japan Times reported over the weekend that the trip will take place from May 24 to 26. The report added that PM Abe would be traveling with top executives from more than 30 Japanese companies.
Japan was initially supposed to participate in a trilateral summit with China and South Korea in Seoul on these dates. However, after Abe announced that the annual summit would take place as scheduled, China requested for it to be delayed due to the ongoing dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
By opting to visit Burma on the same days that the summit was supposed to be held, Abe is sending a strong message to Beijing.
China has struggled to retain influence over its long-time patron Burma ever since Thein Sein initiated the reforms that have led former adversaries like the United States and EU countries to begin courting the country. Both the U.S. and EU have begun relaxing the sanctions they had imposed on the country. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama have both visited Burma.
Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country, although Richard Nixon went in 1953 when he was still vice president. On Monday, Thein Sein will meet with President Obama at the White House, becoming the first Burmese head of state to do so since Ne Win in 1966.
When PM Abe arrives in Burma on Friday he will be the first Japanese prime minister to do since Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda travelled to the country in August 1977.
Rest assured that China will be watching the visit closely.