Japan Still Training Myanmar Military Personnel Despite Condemning Coup

By The Irrawaddy 14 February 2022

For all its initial condemnation of last year’s coup and the Myanmar junta’s use of force against unarmed protesters—as well as its vote in favor of a resolution on Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly—Japan continues to admit Myanmar military personnel to its education and training programs.

Since the coup, the army has killed more than 1,500 civilians who opposed military rule in the country.

Currently, 10 members of the Myanmar military—including two senior officers and two elite candidates—are receiving practical security training for several months to a year. Elite candidates receive basic education and training, including live ammunition drills, over a five-year period, according to The Asahi Shimbun newspaper. They were accepted after the military coup in February 2021.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said it accepts military personnel from 36 countries, including Myanmar, under its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) Law.

Since 2015, Myanmar military cadets have been studying at Japan’s National Defense Academy, receiving both academic and military training.

In 2020, personnel from 15 countries, including Myanmar, attended the program, which is designed to help trainees understand the way the SDF works under civilian control “and utilize that understanding in their own countries,” it added.

The ministry said Myanmar has been included in the program because it occupies a critical position for Japan, bordering both China and India.

In December, a Defense Ministry official told Human Rights Watch that eight cadets from Myanmar were attending the academy, and at least two of them joined after the coup. The academy’s curriculum includes combat and firearms training.

In addition to the cadets, two Tatmadaw officers are being trained at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Training, Evaluation, Research and Development Command, and at the Japan Air Self-Defense Force Command and Staff College, said HRW, citing a Defense Ministry document it obtained.

Another Defense Ministry official said the program is designed to bring about change from within the Tatmadaw by showing cadets, who are expected to become officers, how Japan’s armed forces operate under strict civilian control.

The Asahi Shimbun said the National Institute for Defense Studies, the SDF’s Command and Staff College and others have taken in 17 senior officers of the Myanmar military, while the National Defense Academy has accepted 13 elite candidates.

The SDF law allows the ministry to collect tuition from them and to pay benefits to them. But since Myanmar is considered a developing country, its personnel have been exempted from paying the annual tuition of 552,000 yen (US$4,788).

The ministry has paid 144,000 yen to senior officials from Myanmar and 83,000 yen to elite candidates in monthly benefits. As of April 2021, a total of about 58 million yen had been earmarked as benefits to military personnel from Myanmar.

Japan has come under fire for applying a double standard to the Myanmar military.

HRW said the ministry’s goal of inspiring change from within is not going to happen.

Teppei Kasai, a program officer for HRW’s Asia Division, said the Myanmar military has for many years committed summary killings, rape, indiscriminate shelling, torture, arson, and other abuses with impunity in long-running conflicts with ethnic armed groups even before its atrocities against the Rohingya in 2017.

“And now, six years after the program began, Myanmar is in turmoil because of the Tatmadaw’s coup,” he said, using the military’s name in Burmese.

“The Japanese government should immediately suspend the program and cut defense ties with the Tatmadaw, as New Zealand and Australia, Japan’s regional allies, did soon after the coup. Otherwise Japan risks being complicit in the Tatmadaw’s atrocities,” he added.

Amid mounting criticism, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said at a Jan. 28 news conference that the ministry had yet to decide if it will accept personnel from Myanmar in the new fiscal year, which starts in April.

“We will respond properly,” Kishi said.

However, one official of the SDF said, “The [Myanmar] military’s action is egregious, but the personal relationships [developed through the program] are valuable,” the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

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