TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha voiced hope Saturday their countries' tripartite agreement with Myanmar to develop a special economic zone in southeastern Myanmar will boost economic partnership between Japan and ASEAN.
The project on the Andaman Sea coast is to create one of the largest special economic zones in Southeast Asia as a gateway for the Mekong region's trade with India, the Middle East and Africa, while linking Myanmar by road to Thailand, Cambodia and southern Vietnam.
"I'm convinced the signing of a memorandum of intent on Dawei Special Economic Zone will create an opportunity to strengthen economic partnership between Japan and ASEAN and Japan and Thailand ahead of the launch of an ASEAN Economic Community," Abe said in a joint news conference with Prayut after their meeting in Tokyo.
Senior government officials of the three countries inked the memorandum earlier Saturday as the two plus Myanmar President Thein Sein looked on, on the sidelines of a summit of the leaders of Japan and five Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River.
The move, symbolic for increased connectivity in the Mekong region, came amid efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to lower barriers to the flow of people, goods and money and launch a more integrated economic community by the end of this year.
When completed, the economic zone 200 square kilometers in area "will become a new distribution center of the world," Prayut said.
The five Mekong states are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
In their meeting, Abe and Prayut also welcomed recent agreements between Japan and Thailand to develop a high-speed railway and mass transit system in Thailand, according to Prayut.
Prayut said he "highly values" Japan's initiative in promoting "quality infrastructure investment" in Asia, and promised to take measures to improve the investment climate in Thailand.
The number of Japanese companies investing in Thailand rose to 1,552 in June 2014 from 1,379 two years earlier, according to Japanese data.
The two leaders agreed to launch a regular dialogue between the two countries on cooperation in agriculture, Abe said, without elaborating.
Abe said he explained security bills being deliberated in the Diet represent the government's will to advance his policy of proactive contributions to peace based on the principle of international cooperation.
According to Abe, he also expressed hope Thailand will establish a stable political system after restoring a democratic system, and Prayut said his country is undertaking serious efforts to achieve national reconciliation.
Prayut said Thailand will continue to work to strengthen ties with Japan in the security field.