Thursday, October 11, 2007

Japanese support for Burma's junta

The truly astonishing essay by Yoichi Yamaguchi, former Japanese Ambassador to Rangoon, in which he voices his unwavering support for the Burmese junta (next post, see here), prompted me to probe Japan's involvement with Burma. I came across an article that appeared in the Irrawaddy in 2000 by Neil Lawrence. Although somewhat dated, it is highly relevant to my question. It also refers to the former Japanese Ambassador.
Relations between the Japanese government and Burmese opposition groups both inside Burma and in Japan are more strained now than at any other point in the past decade. . . Japan pushes ahead with a program of democratization in Burma that inspires little confidence in dissidents. Once forming the western extremity of Japan’s World War II-era empire, Burma is still seen by many Japanese politicians as "part of our garden, our sphere of influence," according to Nemoto. The loss of a great deal of this influence to China since 1988, and the desire for access to Burma’s largely untapped economic potential, are generally seen as the key reasons for Japan’s persistent efforts to make a full-scale comeback as the military regime’s chief benefactor.

While Japan’s Burma policy is ostensibly linked to improvements in the country’s political situation, many have their doubts about Tokyo’s claims that it is trying to promote democracy. "Frankly speaking, I don’t think the Japanese government has much interest in the democratization of Burma," says Mizuho Fukushima, one of a group of 16 parliamentarians from the opposition Social Democratic Party. . .

Despite such intransigence on the part of the SPDC, however, it is the attitude of the opposition that Japanese officials seem to find harder to take. "Ninety-nine percent of the Japanese embassy staff in Rangoon is pro-SPDC," maintains Nemoto. "They meet with the SPDC almost every day, but with the NLD only once or twice a month... They feel (Suu Kyi) is very stubborn." . . . "

In the past, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated that Japan, as a democracy, should take a stronger position to support the development of democracy in Burma. As that support is not always evident, however, she is losing patience," notes Tamaki Ohashi, a Tokyo-based Burma activist. She adds, however, that the appointment of Ambassador Shigeru Tsumori to the Japanese embassy in Rangoon may help restore some balance after damage done by a former ambassador, Yoichi Yamaguchi, an open supporter of the regime who wrote two books lauding the junta’s efforts to develop the nation.
Photo: Fallen Japanese Cameraman Kenji Nagai, shot dead at point-blank range by a Burmese soldier on September 27, 2007.

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