Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Japan next week

It has been nearly three decades since Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi last set foot on Japanese soil, but, in a statement released by Japan’s foreign ministry on Thursday, it was revealed that the Nobel peace laureate would be returning to Japan for the first time since she was a visiting researcher at the University of Kyoto between 1985 and 1986.

During her visit, Suu Kyi is expected to return to Kyoto, giving speeches at universities and meeting with Burmese citizens living in Japan, as well as holding talks with several political leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

A lot has changed in Suu Kyi’s life since she last visited, or indeed, was permitted to visit, Japan. For 15 of the past twenty years, Suu Kyi, whose very name has come to symbolise Burma’s struggle for freedom, has been under house arrest, for her political pro-democracy work with the National League for Democracy in the 1980s.  Suu Kyi was only released from her third period of detention in November 2010, after political reforms in Burma finally allowed her to leave the country.

Her visit to Japan will be of particular significance, as Japan is one of the few countries that did not break its links with Burma during the years it spent under a military junta. Japan refused to sever its ties with Burma, believing that to do so might push the country closer to China, instead choosing to maintain its trade links with Burma and providing constant aid.

Since the end of Burma’s military rule in 2011, the country has actively taken steps to open itself up to the business world. Businesses in Japan have been particularly involved in promoting business links between itself and Burma, and has to date cancelled almost $3.7 billion worth of debts.

It is hoped that Suu Kyi’s visit will promote discussions about potential further political reforms in Burma, as well as ways in which the ties between the two countries can be strengthened further.

Sources include: Japan Today, the Japan Daily Press, Burma Campaign UK

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