Minerals, Development Aid Top Agenda for Burma-Japan Talks

Posted October 18th, 2011 at 1:25 am (UTC-5)
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Burma’s mineral wealth and a resumption of Japanese development assistance are expected to be discussed when Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin arrives in Japan Thursday on the first such visit in 16 years.

The foreign minister’s trip is the latest in a series of moves by the new Burmese government to engage with its critics at home and to boost relations with other countries. Last week it released about 200 of its more than 2,000 political prisoners.

Japan was Burma’s largest aid donor until assistance was cut off following the imprisonment of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003. Some development aid was restored in June and Japan’s foreign ministry said that could be increased if political prisoners are released.

Japanese press reports say Tokyo is eyeing Burma as a possible source of rare earth minerals, which are vital to the production of many products in Japan’s high-tech economy. China, the world’s main source of rare earths, disrupted the supply of the minerals to Japan during a diplomatic dispute last year.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba has said he hopes to strengthen economic and cultural ties with Burma during the visit.

The ministry said this will be the first time in 16 years that a Burmese foreign minister has visited Japan for bilateral talks. Officials of the two countries often attend the same region-wide conferences.