During a visit to Myanmar late last month, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended new aid to the country and canceled Myanmar’s debt with Japan. In an email interview, Sean Turnell, an associate professor in the economics department at Australia’s Macquarie University specializing in Myanmar, explained the recent trajectory of Japan’s ties with the country.
WPR: What has Japan's approach been to Myanmar over the past decade, and how has that changed since the end of military rule in Myanmar?
Sean Turnell: For most of the past decade, Japan's strategy toward Myanmar has been one of “watching and waiting.” Responding to international pressures and sanctions on Myanmar's military regime, Japan replaced active economic engagement in Myanmar with a dormant presence in the country of researchers, aid officials and businesspeople, who would be well-placed if and when better times arrived. Upon the creation of Myanmar's quasi-civilian government in 2011, Japan judged that such times had arrived, and its approach to Myanmar took on its current, more active phase.