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Politics

Japan pursues economic ties with Myanmar, avoids Rohingya criticism

Two countries agree to cooperate on urban development, infrastructure

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, welcomes Myanmar President Htin Kyaw in Tokyo on Dec. 14. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a summit meeting with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw in Tokyo on Thursday, at which the two leaders agreed to cooperate in the areas of urban development, transportation and power infrastructure in the Southeast Asian country.

The meeting came amid growing international criticism of Myanmar for human rights violations on Rohingya Muslims in the country's northwestern Rakhine state. Though Abe expressed "concern" at the meeting, Japan has remained somewhat quiet on the issue in an apparent bid to prioritize economic ties with Myanmar.

"For Myanmar's economic development, Japan and Myanmar agreed that we accelerate collaboration on city development in Yangon, transportation and power," Abe said during a joint press conference after the summit meeting.

The Myanmar president, who is closely allied with Myanmar's State Counselor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said that on top of the infrastructure projects, his country was expecting to cooperate with Japan on the building of hospitals and the development of human resources.

Regarding the Rohingya issue, Abe said Japan would continue to support the Myanmar government to restore peace and stability in Rakhine state through the building of roads and schools.

With over 600,000 people having fled to Bangladesh, the United Nations Human Rights Council on Dec. 5 adopted a resolution in which it strongly condemned the alleged "systematic and gross violations of human rights and abuses" committed in Rakhine state. Japan abstained from the vote, saying that it was first "necessary to hold a thorough discussion with the international community and Myanmar on fact-finding."

Toshihiro Kudo, professor of Myanmar studies at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, said that the Japanese government does not seem to beleive that condemning the Myanmar government over the Rohingya issue will help solve the problem.

He also mentioned Japan's fear that too much condemnation might push Myanmar into closer relations with China. "Myanmar is located in an important position in the Mekong region," he said. He added that if China leads development in Myanmar, it could be unfavorable for Japanese businesses that operate in the region.

Earlier this month, Suu Kyi visited Beijing and met Chinese President Xi Jinping, where they agreed to build an economic corridor between the two countries.

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