Japan Lawmaker Meets Regime Chief in Myanmar Capital

By The Irrawaddy 12 August 2022

Following last month’s arrest by the Myanmar junta of a Japanese filmmaker, a lawmaker from Japan’s ruling party met with coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday, the military regime announced.

Hiromichi Watanabe, an MP in Japan’s lower house for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is the first Japanese lawmaker to visit Myanmar since last year’s coup ousted the civilian government.

A junta statement said that at the meeting in the capital Naypyitaw the men discussed bolstering bilateral friendship and encouraging investment, as well as Japan’s donation of cherry trees which are being planted at the Naypyitaw site of what will be the world’s largest Buddha sculpture, a pet personal project of junta boss Min Aung Hlaing.

The regime’s announcement of the visit made no mention of filmmaker Toru Kubota, who was detained in Yangon last month while documenting an anti-regime rally protesting the executions of four pro-democracy activists.

Kubota, 26, faces charges of incitement and violations of visa and immigration rules for filming the anti-regime demonstration.

Tokyo has called for the release of the filmmaker.

Toru Kubota is the second Japanese national detained by the junta since the coup. Yuki Kitazumi, a freelance journalist, was arrested in April last year and accused of spreading “fake news” regarding anti-regime protests. The junta released him in May for the sake of the friendship between Japan and Myanmar.

Japan condemned last year’s military takeover and has since put on hold new official development assistance to Myanmar, although it has not imposed sanctions on individuals or institutions involved in the coup as the United States and many other western nations have done.

Japan’s government has also been criticized for maintaining military ties with the regime by continuing to train Myanmar military officers. Two cadets and two officers from Myanmar were accepted for training in Japan this year.

Some of the officers trained by the Japanese military have since been found to be involved in junta attacks on civilian targets.

Earlier this week, rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Tin Soe, who attended Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, were involved in a massacre of civilians in southeast Myanmar’s Kayah State on Christmas Eve last year.

In May, HRW and Justice for Myanmar, a group of covert activists campaigning for justice and accountability, said that air force Lieutenant Colonel Hlwan Moe, who was trained in Japan, launched possible indiscriminate airstrikes in Magwe Region, an anti-regime stronghold.

Since 2021, HRW has urged Japan’s government to suspend immediately training programs for Myanmar military personnel because they risk making Tokyo complicit in junta atrocities.