March 22, 2014 4:36 am JST

Japanese foreign minister to offer aid on trip to Myanmar

TOKYO -- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will lay out plans for assisting Myanmar with major infrastructure projects and democratic reforms during a trip to the Southeast Asian country scheduled to begin Sunday.

     Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has placed strategic emphasis on Southeast Asia and has already visited all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Myanmar is serving as Asean chair in 2014.

     Japan seeks to counter China's growing influence in the country, and put pressure on North Korea through Myanmar, which has diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

     Kishida will first visit Yangon, an important commercial city, on Sunday, before meeting with his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin in the capital of Naypyidaw on Monday.

     Kishida will also meet with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy opposition party. They are expected to discuss assistance in such areas as legal reforms intended to promote democracy and peace negotiations with militant ethnic minority groups.

     Japan announced a total of more than 150 billion yen ($1.45 billion) in economic assistance to Myanmar last year. During this trip, Japan and Myanmar are expected to agree on several billion yen of grant aid for infrastructure and other projects.

     With an eye on China's economic interests in India, Tokyo seeks to offer assistance for the Dawei special economic zone on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Myanmar. Kishida will relay Japan's plans for helping develop the port there as well as for building a road to connect the zone to Bangkok.