Japanese Training Fuels Myanmar’s Military Violence

The Human Rights Watch urged Japan last Monday to end its academic exchange program with Myanmar due to its imprisonment of democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and consequent military coup d’état on February 1st.

The Myanmar army frequently referred to as the “Tatmadaw,” claimed election fraud regarding National League for Democracy (N.D.L.) Leader and State Counselor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw then sentenced Suu Kyi to four years in prison, consequently seizing control of the country and killing over 1,300 protestors. These acts of violence further illustrate Tatmadaw’s lack of ethics. The body has received widespread backlash from governmental officials and is currently undergoing investigation by the International Court of Justice for the acts of genocide it committed against Rohingya Muslims in August 2017.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. rapporteur on Myanmar, said that the investigation into Tatmadaw’s human rights abuses is “very likely just the tip of the iceberg.” “We are outraged and disturbed by ongoing reports of the Burmese military regime’s use of ‘systematic torture’ across the country,” the U.S. State Department said. “Reports of torture in Burma must be credibly investigated and those responsible for such abuses must be held accountable.”

Japan called on Myanmar’s military to end its acts of violence and release Suu Kyi on March 28 in a joint press release with eleven other countries. However, Japan is yet to enforce economic sanctions or end its military cooperation with Myanmar.

Japan’s economic support of Myanmar is maintained by projects like The Y Complex, a real estate development being constructed on army land. Similarly, private Japanese firms and a Japanese state entity paid rent on a multi-million-dollar hotel and office development, the profits of which were ultimately provided to Myanmar’s defense ministry.

Japan has been accepting cadets from Myanmar since 2015 under article 100 of the Self-Defense Forces Act, which permits foreign nationals to be trained and educated in Defense Ministry facilities. As of December 10th, eight members of the Myanmar military are studying at Japan’s national defense academy. There, they take the same courses as Japanese cadets, coming to an understanding of arms, command, and operation in preparation for combat. Australia, meanwhile, suspended its military co-operation with Myanmar in March 2021 by only providing skill sets unrelated to violence, such as English language training, within its Defense Cooperation Program.

“It is mind-boggling that Japan is providing military training to Myanmar cadets at the same time as its armed forces are committing crimes against Myanmar’s people,” said Teppai Kasai, Asia Program Officer for the Human Rights Watch. “Japan should follow suit with Australia and immediately cut ties with the Myanmar military.”

During a Foreign Affairs Committee session on April 14th, Defense Ministry official Kawasaki said that Japan would consider the concerns about the program and monitor the situation in Myanmar. Japan’s national defense academy may provide a more ethical or informed perspective on combat to its eight Myanmar cadets. However, as Japan is one of Myanmar’s strongest allies, labelling the Tatmadaw’s acts of injustice as a mere “consideration” may only fuel the army to maintain unethical practices. If mass imprisonment, rape, and murder are not deal-breakers for Japan, then where does it draw the line?