So what was Burmese tycoon Tay Za, a man rumored to have represented Myanmar in arms deals under the military junta, doing with the country's president during a recent visit to Japan?
There was a photo opportunity. At that time, there was Tay Za standing behind President Thein Sein.
Tay Za gave the impression that it was the most natural place in the world to be.
Tay Za's interests include lumber and jewelry, real estate and more. He owns a popular soccer team from Yangon, the country's largest city, and an airline.
Although only in his late-40s, he is Myanmar's richest man and politically connected in ways that those who are not can only dream about.
Many believe Tay Za amassed his wealth through the backing of Senior General Than Shwe, the most powerful figure in Myanmar's military government.
With ties to top echelons of the junta, Tay Za built his fortune despite economic sanctions against Myanmar.
At one point, Tay Za was barred from traveling to the West, and Western companies, in turn, were prohibited from having contact with him.
According to Tay Za, it was a last-minute decision for him to join the delegation to Japan. Although Tay Za did not say so, many believe he was brought on board by Than Shwe. There is speculation the general wants Tay Za involved in every aspect of growing business opportunities with Japan.
Thein Sein arrived with a 50-strong delegation. Other members of the entourage comprised businessmen who were close to the country's No. 2 leader prior to the transition to civilian rule last year, as well as the president's henchmen from that time.
And for some reason, another politically connected businessman stage-managed the president's first news conference with foreign reporters since he took office.
Under Thein Sein's direction, Myanmar has begun making reforms on the political, security and economic fronts since last August.
Japan, the United States and the EU have praised those efforts, lifted sanctions and are pushing Myanmar to accelerate the reform process and liberalization.
Although the country has transitioned to nominal civilian rule, the majority of Cabinet ministers are former members of the army. They have merely shed their military uniforms, but apparently not their way of thinking.
Rumor has it that conservatives opposed to rapid reforms still maintain a powerful presence.
When I watched the presidential entourage visit Japan, for the most part it looked no different from when the military junta was in power.
I have to wonder whether all these changes will end up being no more than cosmetic.
For that reason I can't help but watch the words and actions taken by the president, who is promoting top-down reforms. According to an official of Japan's Foreign Ministry who knows Thein Sein, the president has a good memory, writes down what information heeds on a small notepad during informal talks and such, and if something happens he jots it down right there.
Thein Sein demonstrated his shrewdness even when he toured the thermal power plant in Kawasaki operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. He never referred to briefing papers when he gave an address there. He spoke smoothly, touching on topics such as the long relationship with Myanmar by TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Thein Sein asked many detailed questions around the turbine, inquiring about fuel efficiency and construction time frames.
Japan's leading politicians and corporate leaders lined up to meet the president at his hotel, hopeful that he would continue to push forward along the current path of reform.
And Japan is not alone. Many people, both at home and abroad, think the same. That includes democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
I am reminded of the Biblical parable about new wine in old wineskin. As the wine ferments it destroys the old wineskin and leaks. If the reforms continue, there will be a flood of investment and aid to Myanmar.
It is important to provide support so that the wineskin does not burst.
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Takeshi Fujitani is chief of The Asahi Shimbun's Asian General Bureau in Bangkok.
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