Japan to scrap controversial training program for Myanmar cadets – The Diplomat
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A defense ministry spokesman said the move was a response to the shocking execution by the military junta of four political prisoners in July.
Yesterday the Japanese government announced it would suspend military training for Myanmar military officers from next year, after coming under fire for its continued ties to the Tatmadaw.
Aoki Takeshi, spokesperson for Japan’s Defense Ministry, told reporters that the ministry would stop accepting students from fiscal year 2023, which begins in April, NHK reported.
According to NHK, the trigger for the decision was the military government’s execution of four political prisoners in late July, which was widely seen as a cruel, shocking and escalating act, even by the low standards of the armed forces. from Myanmar.
The executions have prompted a group of Japanese lawmakers who support Myanmar’s democratization to demand that Japan end a program in which Myanmar cadets are housed at Japan’s National Defense Academy, where they receive academic training and military. Aoki said the ministry decided it was not appropriate to continue defense cooperation and exchanges with Myanmar, after the military ignored Japan’s strong concerns over its rare use of the penalty. of death.
Japan’s training program dates back to 2015, the same year Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) seized power in a cheering election. The NLD’s election victory marked the hopeful culmination of Myanmar’s political and economic openness and led a number of foreign governments to begin engaging with the military after years of sanctions and restricted contacts.
However, the Japanese program continued even after the military seized power in the country in a coup in February last year, plunging the country into a new phase of political turmoil that continues until now. According to advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), Japan agreed to two cadets and two officers to participate in the training program after the 2021 coup. This was followed by two more cadets and two officers this year.
In May, HRW and the Myanmar-based advocacy group Justice for Myanmar identified a Japanese-trained air force commander they said had been involved in bombings against civilian militias opposing the military junta. Lt. Col. Hlwan Moe was reportedly hosted by the Air Command and Staff College in Tokyo in 2016-17.
Tokyo’s decision to keep the program going after the coup likely has its roots in the country’s fundamentally pragmatic approach to Myanmar and other non-democracies in Southeast Asia. For years, Japan avoided the sanctions and trade embargoes imposed by many Western democracies, arguing that constructive engagement was the best way to encourage change within the Burmese military, and that sanctions policies judgmentalisms have achieved little, except to create a vacuum of influence that will simply be filled by China.
It now appears that the possible practical benefits of retaining influence over Myanmar’s military are clearly outweighed by moral and reputational externalities.
Teppei Kasai by HRW said on Twitter that Tokyo’s decision was “a step forward”, but that it should “investigate the fate of all other Tatmadaw soldiers who have been trained in Japan and publish the results”. He also called on the Japanese government to join the Western sanctions campaign against military leaders and companies linked to the armed forces.
Given Japan’s history of relations with Myanmar, however, it is unlikely, at least in the short term, that it will move from ending a contentious relationship with the Tatmadaw to proactive punishment with sanctions and other economic measures. For the foreseeable future, pragmatism will remain the cornerstone of Japanese policy towards Myanmar.