The remarks, delivered in Burmese, drew applause from pro-democracy protesters hoping that Japan would take concrete steps to put pressure on the Burmese army, also known as Tatmadaw. But since then, Japan has resisted calls to impose sanctions or suspend ongoing infrastructure projects, saying only that it would avoid making new non-humanitarian deals with the junta.
In addition, some influential Japanese voices want to embrace the junta.
Yusuke Watanabe, secretary general of the influential Japan-Myanmar Association – a group of prominent Japanese politicians and business leaders – wrote in an opinion piece last month that Tokyo “must position itself as a bridge between Tatmadaw and the United States and other countries rather than blindly aligning itself with Western policy of regime change. Watanabe, the son of a former minister, introduced himself as “one of the few foreigners in constant contact” with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
Japan’s reluctance to put financial pressure on the military shows the difficulties President Joe Biden is facing in convincing American allies in Asia to put teeth in calls to defend democracy, a key theme he voiced. last week at the Group of Seven summit and other stops in Europe.
For Japan and India in particular – two countries along with Australia that make up the US-backed Quad group – harsh measures against the junta only increase China’s regional influence. They have also avoided joining with Western democracies in sanctioning Chinese officials for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang.
“The Japanese don’t believe in sanctions,” said Nobuhiro Aizawa, associate professor at Kyushu University specializing in Southeast Asian politics and international relations. The Japanese point of view, he said, is that “if you don’t accept the democratic principle of governance, you won’t be successful economically. And if you are not successful economically, you will not be able to stay in power. “
Japan urged the military to stop violence, release those arrested and restore democracy. On June 8, lawmakers in the country’s lower house passed a resolution condemning the military takeover.
“Within the international community, our country has many channels of communication with Myanmar, including the Burmese army,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said by telephone in response to written questions. “We understand that many countries, not just our own, are thinking about how best to handle this, depending on the situation. “
Yet the country also has a history of defending Burmese generals. In 2019, Ambassador Maruyama declared “that there is no genocide in Myanmar” in response to a case before the International Court of Justice concerning allegations of atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim population in western China. Rakhine State. “We are convinced that the Burmese army will keep its promise” to prosecute anyone who has committed human rights violations, the Irrawaddy said, citing.
One of the main factors preventing Japan from taking tougher measures is the fear of ceding its influence to China. Beijing blocked uniform sanctions at the United Nations Security Council and said its policy towards Myanmar was unaffected by the coup, granting the regime legitimacy on the world stage.
“Considering the money they have invested and the fact that they see it as geo-economic competition with China, they are very reluctant to withdraw,” said Simon Tay, president of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, about Japan.
Japan’s ties to this Southeast Asian country date back to World War II, when the Tokyo regime aided revolutionaries led by Aung San – the father of modern Myanmar and the now-detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi – to train the Tatmadaw in its struggle for independence. While Japan occupied Myanmar until 1945 and Aung San turned against them, the countries maintained close relations even during long periods of military rule.
When Myanmar ushered in sweeping political and economic reforms a decade ago, Japan was rewarded with high-profile projects, joining state-owned enterprises to create the Yangon Stock Exchange and the only Special Economic Zone. operational of the country. In April, Japan was the third-largest foreign investing country behind Singapore and China, with nearly $ 2.4 billion in capital since fiscal year 2016-17, according to data from the Investment and Investment Directorate. Myanmar business administration.But since the February 1 coup, companies have come under intense pressure to withdraw from military-related investments after security forces killed hundreds of protesters.
Among them is Kirin Holdings Co., which said days after the coup that it would end its joint venture partnership with military firm Myanma Economic Holdings Public Co. in the country’s largest brewer afterwards. having bought a controlling stake of $ 560 million six years earlier. In a statement, the company said it was “taking urgent action” to end the deal but did not yet have a timeline.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group was listed in a December report by Justice for Myanmar among international companies linked to Telecom International Myanmar Co. Ltd., or Mytel, a company created by Min Aung Hlaing, according to the US Treasury Department. A spokesperson for Mitsubishi said the company does not comment on individual companies.
Justice for Myanmar alleges that Mytel’s largest shareholder, Viettel Group, which is owned by the Vietnamese Ministry of Defense, exploits user data that could be used for military purposes by the Burmese junta. The regime had also ordered operators to shut down their networks in an attempt to quell protests after the coup. A spokesperson for Viettel said the company would not comment on the issue, while Mytel did not respond to multiple email and phone requests for comment.
The Japanese government is more concerned with economic and human security in Myanmar than punishing the military with coercive measures, according to Moe Thuzar, a member of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“Half-measures here are probably intended as negotiating points towards a constructive outcome,” she said. “The risk here is of course that the military junta manipulates any space given to it, or decides to ‘walk with fewer friends’. “
– With the help of Jason Scott, Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen, Isabel Reynolds and Khine Lin Kyaw