Myanmar Junta Chief Hands Honorary Title to Japanese Ally

By The Irrawaddy 21 February 2023

Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing on Monday handed the Thiri Pyanchi titles and decorations to Hideo Watanabe, chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association.

Ultranationalist monk U Wirathu, once dubbed by Time magazine as the “Buddhist Bin Laden” and the Russian defense minister and his deputy were awarded the Thiri Pyanchi title in November last year. The honorary titles were awarded for “strenuous cooperation to bring about peace, development and prosperity in Myanmar”, according to the junta.

Watanabe could not attend the main ceremony in early January so the 90-year-old junta apologist received his title in Naypyitaw on Monday.

Joint secretary of the regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council, Lieutenant General Ye Win Oo, who oversees torture chambers as the military intelligence chief, and Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Soe Htut were present. Watanabe also accepted a Thray Sithu title on behalf of former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso.

Min Aung Hlaing called Watanabe a “good friend” and thanked him for his efforts to “foster ties between the two countries and two armies, and attract Japanese investment into Myanmar”.

Watanabe vowed to promote bilateral friendship and boost the development of Myanmar and its military.

He thanked Min Aung Hlaing on behalf of Taro Aso who was busy with election preparation in Japan.

He visited deputy junta chief Soe Win and met the chairman of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party U Khin Yi in November.

Watanabe, a former lawmaker in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, represents Japanese investors in Myanmar.

His ties with Min Aung Hlaing go back a decade. They met shortly before and after the military chief staged his coup in February 2021.

Following the military takeover, Watanabe told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that Min Aung Hlaing had not staged a coup but “done what he should have in accordance with the law”.

In late May 2021, as the number of civilians killed by the regime passed 800, Watanabe’s son Yusuke, who is secretary general of JMA, wrote in The Diplomat that Min Aung Hlaing’s coup was constitutional and Japan should continue to boost its “special relationship with the Tatmadaw”, meaning honorable military.

Watanabe insisted that he was not siding with the military but “didn’t want people to say that the military was suppressing and killing its own citizens”. He said he believed assurances that Min Aung Hlaing would bring genuine democracy to Myanmar.