by Feng Yingqiu
YANGON. Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso is due to pay a four-day visit to Myanmar starting Wednesday as Myanmar is in rapid progress with a series of reforms.
Aso will be the highest-ranking Japanese official to visit Myanmar since Myanmar President U Thein Sein made a historic tour to Tokyo in April 2012 which opened up a new chapter of bilateral friendly relations.
His visit will also be the first high-profile overseas trip by a member of Japan's new cabinet since it took office last week.
During the visit, Aso will meet the Myanmar leadership as well as finance minister in the capital. He will also visit Thilawa Special Economic Zone in which Japanese enterprises have planned investment, diplomatic sources said.
During Thein Sein visit to Japan last April, three memorandums of understanding were signed, namely MoU on Japanese government's assistance to Myanmar government for human resources development fellowship program, MoU on cooperation in main project development of Thilawa Special Economic Zone, and MoU on Japan's assistance in preventive measures against natural disaster for rehabilitation of mangrove forest in Ayeyawaddy delta.
Japan, Myanmar's largest creditor, has announced that it will clear Myanmar's overdue debt of 500 billion yens (about 6 billion U.S. dollars) in January and offered to provide Myanmar a new loan of 50 billion yens (about 602 million U.S. dollars) for the development of the country's nationalities in border areas and construction of Thilawa Port and deep seaports.
The loan will also be used in poverty alleviation, communications, Myanmar-host 2013 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and 2014 Myanmar's ASEAN chairmanship.
In December 2012, Myanmar and Japan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Yangon on cooperation in development of Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project which comprises factories, high-tech industry, textile, labor intensive industry and manufacturing industry.
With Myanmar holding 51 percent of shares and Japan 49 percent, the project will be implemented in 2013 and commercial operation will be launched by 2015.
At the year-end of 2012, Myanmar and Japan signed three grant aid projects on communication networks, food security and non- project grant aid.
Meanwhile, Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) of Myanmar and Japan sought extensive cooperation in various fields, working for creation of a master plan for industrial development to foster supporting industry in the country.
According to official statistics, Japan injected a total of 216. 94 million U.S. dollars as of July 2012 since 1988, standing the 12th in Myanmar's foreign investors line-up.
In the fiscal year 2011-12, trade between Myanmar and Japan nearly doubled, reaching 822.5 million dollars compared with 2010- 11's 493.8 million dollars.
In the first four months (April-July) of the fiscal year 2012- 13, bilateral trade amounted to 443.65 million dollars.