State Counsellor and Foreign Minister of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi visited Japan for the first time since the administration headed by the National League for Democracy (NLD) -- of which Suu Kyi is the de facto leader -- was launched this past March.
The daughter of modern-day Myanmar's "Father of the Nation" Major General Aung San, Suu Kyi has long been a symbol of Myanmar's battle for democracy. During her visit to Japan, she expressed her passion for creating a democratic nation, telling Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Myanmar was writing a new page in history. In turn, Abe told Suu Kyi that he hoped to advance the relationship between the two countries in "leaps and bounds." He also pledged to assist in building infrastructure in Myanmar and help the government reach a peace agreement with the country's ethnic minorities.
Under the military junta, Myanmar became one of the poorest countries in the world. But since government administration shifted to civilian rule in 2011, the country has seen continuous annual economic growth of about 7 to 8 percent. Some have dubbed Myanmar "Asia's final frontier," with its population of over 50 million people and its abundance of natural resources. Moreover, there are more than 300 Japanese corporations operating there.
Building infrastructure leads to business environment improvements for Japanese corporations. Not only is this mutually beneficial to both Japan and Myanmar, the latter's economic development is likely to contribute to a stable democratic administration.
In the meantime, however, fighting between the national military led by the Bamar ethnic majority -- which comprises just under 70 percent of the country's population -- and the nation's ethnic minority groups has continued since Myanmar gained independence in 1948. Sustainable development is impossible unless this problem is resolved.
Under the democratic government, political dialogue including armed ethnic minority insurgents with whom the national military has not yet reached a ceasefire agreement was begun this past summer. We hope such moves bear fruit.
This August, Suu Kyi chose China as her first non-ASEAN destination. Not only is China Myanmar's biggest trading partner, it also wields influence over Chinese ethnic minorities that have not agreed on a ceasefire, and Suu Kyi therefore views a good relationship with China as critical in achieving peace with those groups.
At the same time, however, Suu Kyi has said she aspires to omnidirectional diplomacy, in which Myanmar's relationship with one country does not take precedence over its relationships with other countries. This is likely based on Suu Kyi's belief that maintaining good ties with such countries as Japan and the U.S. is as important to Myanmar as a good relationship with China.
Ever since the launch of her administration, Suu Kyi has shown herself to be a realist. Our hope is that she will clear the path to true democracy in Myanmar by implementing balanced policies regarding both domestic and diplomatic issues.
There are people here in Japan who fled Myanmar due to persecution from the military junta and have long supported the democracy movement from a distance. Suu Kyi called on those Myanmar living in Japan to work hard to make their country a place that is respected and looked up to.
Japan, also, shoulders a heavy responsibility as a trusted partner of Suu Kyi's.