The Japanese government continues its diplomatic approach to the escalation of political violence in Myanmar, although there is unrest in its country over Tokyo’s inability to take a firmer line with the military junta that has taken over. power to the democratically elected government in February.
Tokyo on Wednesday announced it would suspend further economic assistance to Myanmar in order to pressure the military regime to end violence against civilian protesters demanding a return to democracy.
Still, Tokyo remains committed to engaging with the generals for several reasons, analysts say.
“Japan has worked hard to establish strong ties with Myanmar, a policy that dates back to the 1980s, when other countries refused to engage with the military government there,” Akitoshi Miyashita, professor of international relations at Tokyo International University, says DW.
This assistance has continued until recently and has mainly taken the form of large amounts of development assistance, he said. In FY2019 alone, Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Myanmar amounted to nearly 200 billion yen (1.54 billion euros, 1.81 billion dollars ), making Japan the fourth largest donor in the world and the largest in Asia.
Low Interest Loan Agreement
As recently as September last year, Tokyo signed an agreement providing for low-interest loans of 42.78 billion yen for the construction of transport infrastructure and the financing of small businesses. and medium-sized enterprises.
Of that total, 27.78 billion yen was to be invested in a road bridge on Myanmar’s East-West Economic Corridor, a key economic artery that connects the country with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, the ministry said. Foreign Affairs in Tokyo.
The deal underscores one of Japan’s motivations in Myanmar, which has become an important place for Japanese manufacturers to build factories and take advantage of relatively low labor costs. This policy, in turn, helped create a new market for Japanese products.
For Tokyo, a second and arguably more important factor behind its decision to keep the lines of communication with the military junta open is geopolitics.
“Japan’s muted response to human rights abuses in Myanmar is mainly because it does not want the military junta to come close to China,” said Stephen Nagy, associate professor of international relations at the University. International Christian from Tokyo, to DW.
Bulwark against Beijing
Tokyo has worked hard in recent years to establish cooperative diplomatic relations with governments across the Indo-Pacific region to serve as a bulwark against Beijing’s aggressive expansionist policies, such as in the South China Sea, Nagy said.
China undoubtedly has deep pockets, but Japan is hopeful that its refusal to align with the rest of the international community and impose sanctions, as well as the long-standing ties to previous military governments, could still give it some influence.
The domestic public, however, seems to be losing patience with this strategy – especially when the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union froze the country’s assets held abroad and imposed other sanctions. against companies linked to the army.
A group of politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party broke ranks on Tuesday and drafted a resolution calling on the government to be more “careful” in its economic and security cooperation with Myanmar.
Some are using social media to express their anger at the government’s reluctance to exert more pressure, with a poster on the Japan today insisting that by not taking more direct punitive measures, Tokyo was “complicit in this bloody repression, pure and simple”.
Another poster said, “There is nothing ‘courageous’ about the posture of Japan, to offer words but very little action. In fact, it is cowardly complicity.”
A Burmese interpreter also made headlines for conducting a survey of compatriots living in Japan on Tokyo’s response to the coup. Over 90% of those polled said they were opposed to further economic assistance to their homeland, while over 85% said Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama should not have met with Wunna Maung Lwin, who was appointed the regime’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Violence and bloodshed
Nagy believes there will be a gradual increase in public opposition to Tokyo’s approach to communication rather than confrontation.
“The intellectual community, NGOs and others are all demanding that the Japanese government take a stronger stance on the human rights violations taking place in Myanmar and push back the generals,” the expert said.
“Tokyo always prefers the secondary diplomacy it has used in the past when it comes to countries like Iran, the Philippines or Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding: “Although this was successful in the Philippines, there wasn’t much reward with the Iranians. “
“With Myanmar, it’s too early to say if a diplomatic approach will work, but I have to say that right now it doesn’t look good. But it also underlines the fact that Japan doesn’t have a lot of cards in its diplomatic playbook and Tokyo needs to be pragmatic, ”he said.