Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo by: TTTNIS

The Japanese prime minister’s visit to Myanmar on Friday – a first in 36 years – hints at new funding avenues from the donor that extends up to $700 million as aid to the wartorn country.

Shinzo Abe’s tour of Myanmar on May 24-26 is expected to deepen the development ties between the two countries with the signing of a joint declaration of bilateral relationship.

Local media anticipate that Abe will announce up to 100 billion yen ($980 million) in new official development assistance when he meets with President Thein Sein later this week.

Abe’s trip follows Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the Japanese capital in April, where the two leaders agreed on upgrading Myanmar’s educational infrastructure to facilitate national development. Suu Kyi, who then asked Japan for support in promoting vocational and agricultural education, will also be called on by Abe.

In January, Japan pardoned a large portion of Myanmar’s over $5 billion debt. That allowed the Japan International Cooperation Agency to extend new concessional ODA loans in order to scale up bilateral cooperation, Kensuke Fukawa, director of JICA’s Southeast Asian Division, said in an interview with Devex.

JICA committed in 2012 more than $700 million in ODA to Myanmar, $500 million of which is allocated to concessional loans for investment in electricity generation, regional infrastructure and the development of the Thilawa industrial zone, while the rest is for grants and technical assistance on health, disaster prevention and agriculture. In the next fiscal year, Japan will place increased importance on stimulating Myanmar’s private sector and infrastructure, as the country’s economy recovers from years of isolation and stagnation.

It seems that Japan has waited for this day to come.

Since 1954, the Japanese development agency has kept its links with Myanmar, even when other bilateral donors suspended support after the military violently crushed anti-government protests in 1988 and refused to allow any democratic reforms until 2010.

But it has not been easy working in the recovering state, said Fukawa. JICA’s presence in Myanmar was met with challenges, including the government’s limited administrative capacity, exposure to international aid and understanding of donors’ safeguard policies, as well as the lack of reliable data.

The agency takes a cautious approach in doing aid work in sensitive areas in the country still struggling with conflict between the government and armed ethnic groups like in the Karen and Rakhine states.

“During project formulation, we hold discussions not only with central government, but also regional and state government as well as ethnic minorities group. Such consultations help us to understand political economy and [the] real needs of the people,” said Fukawa.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.

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