Thursday, October 11, 2007

Former Japanese Ambassador to Rangoon Defends Junta

This is strange. Ambassador Yoichi Yamaguchi, a career diplomat who served as Japan's ambassador to Myanmar from 1995-97, has just lashed out against the media's "one-sided" view of Burma. His opinion piece was published today, carried by UPI:
. . .international media seldom report anything positive about the current Myanmar government. . . .

The regime has succeeded in maintaining economic growth of over 5 percent annually, earning it widespread trust by the people. Therefore, as far as I can see, there are few who are willing to challenge the government at the risk of their lives.
But are the Burmese People reaping the benefits of Burma's growth? The WFP estimates that one-third of the children in Burma are malnourished (some more appalling health statistics compiled here). Undeterred by such facts, Yamaguchi continues:
During my time as ambassador there, Suu Kyi did have frequent communications with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and received financial supports from the U.S. government and private groups.
Tens of thousands of Americans have written to their elected representatives over the years, expressing their concern about the plight of Suu Kyi. What's your point here Yamaguchi? And since you brought it up: exactly what has Japan done recently on behalf of Suu Kyi and the cause of democracy in Burma?* The former Japanese ambassador claims to have the inside scoop on Suu Kyi's "house arrest":
After the incident in 1996 when (Suu Kyi's) vehicle was surrounded by rioters, she requested police protection at her residence. This is another side of her current house arrest.
Ah! So that's the reason Suu Kyi remained in a house surrounded by police for so many years. She had requested police protection from the rioters.

Seemingly oblivious to the cold-blooded murder of his fellow countryman and countless protestors on the streets of Rangoon not two weeks ago, Yamaguchi adds:
Although the military government pronounced several death sentences every year, most of them were not actually carried out. Also, the lifestyle of government officials is generally modest, with corruption cases remarkably rare as a military regime.
. . . several death sentences every year, most of them not actually carried out. In addition to not having heard about any of the recent state-authorized killings, Yamaguchi seems to have missed Amnesty International's Report 2007. I would refer him to a subsection of the Myanmar report labeled, "Crimes Against Humanity":
. . .Villagers reported widespread and systematic commission of acts constituting violations of international humanitarian and human rights law on a scale that amounted to crimes against humanity. Destruction of houses and crops, enforced disappearances, forced labour, torture and extrajudicial killings of Karen civilians increased. . . . Other violations included . . . the burning of whole villages and the reported killing in February in northern Kayin state of a village headman and other civilians. . .
On the lifestyle question, Yamaguchi should check out this video. It shows Burmese junta wives wearing a "modest" amount of jewelry enjoying themselves at the "modest" wedding bash held last year for the daughter of junta leader Than Shwe. I wonder what Yamaguchi makes of Naypyidaw, the city the junta built for itself at a cost of $10 billion, said to include no fewer than five private golf-courses. So what is to be done about Burma? Yamaguchi has the answer:
The first step, therefore, is to halt the wrong reporting and creation of stereotypes like a samurai drama in which Suu Kyi plays the good guy and the military regime plays the bad guy.
Thank you for enlightening us Yamaguchi.

So how to explain the former Japanese ambassador's remarks? Surely Yamaguchi is joking; the article is a spoof. It reflects some kind of impenetrable Japanese sense of humor. Sadly, I doubt it. Another possibility is that he could be on the take. But that strikes me as extremely unlikely also. Having worked in Japan, I will hazard a guess at what seems the more likely explanation.

Like most who have attended a prestigious Japanese university, Yamaguchi's journey began with a very high score on the standardized tests of the Japanese Ministry of Education (Monbusho). He spent years cramming for these examinations, likely attending juku or night school five days a week. Upon graduation from college, he entered Japan's Foreign Ministry. He undoubtedly worked late every night, before heading out on the town for drinks of sake with his superiors. Finally -- having been promoted over numerous female colleagues of higher caliber -- Yamaguchi advanced his career to the ambassador level. And now, in retirement he writes. Sadly, like many of his high-scoring classmates, Yamaguchi never acquired the ability to think. Yamaguchi is a living testimony to the most dreadful system of education in the developed world.**

One might also imagine that Yamaguchi is golf buddies with various junta officials; he says he's travels to Burma "regularly" as a tourist. Thailand's General Sonthi, who now works just a stone's throw from the Thai prime minister's office, is another one of the junta's golf buddies. Sonthi is one of the world's highest profile apologists for Burma. You can read about Sonthi here.

* Perhaps someone could enlighten me on this point. What -- if anything -- has Japan done to show its support the democracy in Burma? Another point to consider: Suu Kyi's father turned against the Japanese occupation to side with the British at the end of World War II. Might this fact have anything to do with Yamaguchi's obvious displeasure with Suu Kyi? On this score also, Yamaguchi may well be another happless victim of the Japanese Education Ministry. His knowledge of Japanese imperialism is quite possibly limited to what he read in Japanese textbooks as a student. Never having learned how to think, he knows only what he was once forced to memorize: that Japan was the victim in World War II, not the aggressor. That a former Japanese diplomat would speak out in defense of the Burmese junta at a time like this should serve as a wake-up call to the Japanese that something is not right with their education system and their Foreign Ministry.

** Incidentally, it's the very system the US has been striving hard to emulate recently under the tutelage of George W. Bush and his "No Child Left Behind" initiative.

This was not Yoichi Yamaguchi's first Op-ed on Burma. In 2000 the former Japanese ambassador to Rangoon wrote in the Japan Times:
In reality, members of the military junta are far from clinging to power for selfish motives, rather they are devoted to making self sacrifices for the cause of their country and its people. They state on every occasion that the present government s task is only provisional and that having no intention of staying in power for a long time, they are ready to go back to their barracks as soon as their mission is complete. They also demonstrate probity. In contrast to what frequently occurs in similar cases in many countries, corruption is exceptional.
Someone had thought to post this opinion piece by Yamaguchi on a university website. The poster commented: "My guess is that this guy is now on the Japanese corporate payroll, and this is a piece of pr whitewash. . ."

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