Myanmar’s president calls for more investment, development aid from Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Myanmar’s president called Thursday for more investment and development assistance from the Philippines, saying his country needs help to catch up with the rest of Southeast Asia after emerging from nearly two decades of economic sanctions.

President Thein Sein’s visit represents a milestone in relations with the Philippines, one of the harshest critics of Myanmar’s former ruling junta. Thein Sein’s elected government took office in 2011, ending a half-century of military rule.

Thein Sein met Thursday with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino said he was confident that Southeast Asia’s regional bloc — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN — would make significant progress toward achieving economic integration by 2015 under Myanmar’s chairmanship next year.

The two presidents witnessed the signing of six agreements in areas including no-visa visits for Filipinos travelling to Myanmar for up to 14 days, and co-operation in trade, agriculture and renewable energy.

Thein Sein, who arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday and leaves Friday, said he urged Aquino to ask Filipinos to invest in Myanmar and for the Philippines to assist his country in fields such as health, education and economic development.

“As you know, we have lagged behind in terms of development compared to other ASEAN member-states as Myanmar was imposed with economic sanctions for nearly two decades,” he told reporters through an interpreter.

Aquino said he offered Thein Sein assistance through technical co-operation and training courses, and voiced support for democratic and economic reforms in Myanmar.

“These reforms include the holding of free elections, the release of political prisoners, dialogue with the opposition, the expansion of political rights and the promulgation of new economic laws such as the new Foreign Investment Law,” Aquino said. “These herald a new chapter in Myanmar’s history.”

Aquino also thanked Thein Sein for Myanmar’s $150,000 in aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan — which killed 5,759 people and left 1,779 missing last month — and a deadly earthquake that struck the central Philippines in October.