Myanmar’s Japanese Business Community Says Japan ‘too considerate’ to Junta

By The Irrawaddy 19 May 2021

A survey of Japanese business people based in Myanmar reveals that they believe that Japan’s response to the coup and the deaths of hundreds of civilian protesters has been “too considerate of the military” and lacks concrete action.

The independent opinion survey asked 135 members of the Japanese business community in Myanmar their opinion on the current business climate, and on the Japanese diplomatic response to the junta’s overthrowing of the civilian government.

A total of 71 percent of the respondents said that the Japanese government’s response to the military regime has been weak. Only 23 percent of respondents said that Tokyo had taken appropriate action in regard to the military takeover in Myanmar, according to the survey, which was conducted in April.

Japan is the largest official provider of development aid and the fourth-largest investor in Myanmar. Given that, and a long history of close diplomatic ties and defense cooperation, the Japanese business community expected their government to be more pro-active in pressuring the coup leaders, rather than just criticizing the human rights abuses in the country.

They also expected Japan to make more concrete contributions to ending the human rights abuses and lethal crackdowns on pro-democracy supporters, in cooperation with other international players.

One Japanese investor said that they had noticed that Myanmar citizens are disappointed with the Japanese government for not taking stronger measures against the junta, including applying sanctions on the military.

Another investor said, “I am disappointed. Criticism of the military is just talk, it’s the same as doing nothing.”

“I understand that they do not approve of the military, but are they not aware of the fact that “not speaking out” can be seen as approval,” a Japanese business person said in the survey.

“The government took a long time to make an official statement [about the coup] and no concrete action has been taken yet,” noted another Japanese business man.

Following the coup, Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry immediately expressed its grave concern over the military takeover, as well as urging the junta to release civilian leaders and to swiftly restore democracy to the country. Moreover, Japan also endorsed a statement condemning the coup issued by the foreign ministers of the G7.

Japan has also condemned the military’s shooting of anti-coup protesters and urged the junta to stop the violence immediately. Later, the government decided to suspend all new development aid to Myanmar.

But Japan has not applied targeted sanctions to the coup leaders, unlike the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union. They have all imposed a series of targeted sanctions on military leaders and businesses controlled by the military, in an effort to cut the junta’s financial lifeline

Many observers believe that Tokyo has so far avoided imposing sanctions out of fear that they would result in the junta seeking closer ties with China.

“The Japanese government has treated the military politely so far but, in contrast, the military has not dealt with things that are also in the interest of Japan. It is as if the Japanese government is being lambasted,” a Japanese investor said.

Another said, “I believe that you [Japanese government] are exploring the possibilities. I expect and respect that but, the way I see it, Japan is being “too considerate [to the military].”

A total of 45.9 percent respondents said that the Japanese government “should impose partial sanctions targeting companies and the junta”, while 30.4 percent said that Japan should apply “limited sanctions targeting key companies and people related to the military.”

When asked about what the Japanese government should do about ongoing official development projects, 65.2 percent of the business community said it should stop some aid, especially that flowing to the military and its companies. A total of 20 percent of respondents suggested stopping all aid to demonstrate Japan’s opposition to the coup. Another 14.8 percent said that the aid should continue so as not to deter Japanese business people from investing in Myanmar.

While Japanese investors want to see more concrete action from their government, 57.8 percent think that Japan’s stance of maintaining dialogue with the military should be continued, saying that the government should push the military to restore civilian rule and to solve the political crisis through talks.

“There is no value in having dialogue in the current situation where the national military [Myanmar military] is entrenched, however, considering the future political situation, it is worthwhile to continue to be open to dialogue and wait for the right moment when there is even the slightest possibility of dialogue,” one Japanese investor said.

“In order to prevent Myanmar from becoming like Cambodia [where China’s influence is dominant] the Japanese government should continue its relationship with Myanmar. By continuing the relationship, we can find a foothold for democratization in the future,” another investor said.

27.4 percent of respondents suggested that Japan should not engage in any dialogue with the junta, saying that they don’t believe that the military has any interest in talks.

You may also like these stories:

ASEAN Must Engage With US, China

Regional Organizations Fall Short as Myanmar Continues to Bleed

KIA Attacks Seven Tankers Supplying ‘Aviation Fuel’ for Regime