Japanese community of ‘Little Yangon’ demands action against Myanmar

TOKYO – Members of Tokyo’s growing Burmese immigrant community met with civil society groups in the capital on Thursday to demand stronger action from the Japanese government against the military regime.

Outside the Foreign Ministry building, around 200 people held candles and pictures of State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi.

“She is like my mother. Every morning I pray for her when I wake up,” said Pyae Pyae Win, 25, a refugee from near Yangon.

A petition drawn by Mekong Watch, a non-profit organization, called for an investigation to find out whether public funds the Japanese government gave to Myanmar in the form of grants and loans benefited the junta. Protesters called on Tokyo to halt new and current funding during the investigation.

The protest comes two months after the Burmese army, known as the tatmadaw, toppled the democratic government, preventing a newly elected parliament from sitting and arresting dozens of civilian leaders, including Suu Kyi. Last weekend, a parade celebrating Armed Forces Day in the capital, Naypyidaw, turned into the deadliest day of anti-coup protests, with 107 dead across the country.

Eleven military leaders, including the commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, were sanctioned last week by the United States, the European Union and Canada. The United Kingdom on Thursday sanctioned a conglomerate linked to the tatmadaw.

But as Myanmar’s second-largest source of development assistance, Japan has a great influence on the country’s economic future.

Keen not to be left behind by China, Japan sent 189.3 billion yen ($ 1.8 billion) in official development assistance to Myanmar in 2019, according to MOFA figures.

The Japanese government has refused to join its allies in targeted sanctions, officials including Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, alluding to Japan’s “unique role” in maintaining communication – and influence – with the tatmadaw.

“We are doing our best to achieve goals such as stopping the violence and freeing detainees and quickly restoring the democratic political system,” a foreign ministry official told Nikkei Asia. When asked if Japan had filed a complaint about the violence against protesters last weekend, the official said: “So far we have not received any kind of positive reaction from Tatmadaw.” .

Yuka Kiguchi, executive director of Mekong Watch, said in a statement that the group did not want Japan’s “unique role” to be that of providing funds for projects that potentially finance bullets that kill civilians in Myanmar. “

Japan announced in February that it would cease all new official development assistance to Myanmar. Ongoing ODA funded projects as well as loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Japan International Cooperation Agency are ongoing.

Tokyo’s cautious stance was in part aimed at protecting Japanese trade interests in Myanmar. In the weeks following the February 1 coup, a few Japanese companies publicly denounced the coup. Beverage giant Kirin has said it will seek a new business partner to replace Myanma Economic Holding Ltd., the military’s investment vehicle, in two jointly owned breweries.

“We want to show the concern of Japanese civil society to the Burmese people,” Kiguchi told Nikkei Asia. “We think our government is ignoring our demands. It looks very bad in this situation.”

The Burmese population in Japan has grown to more than 20,000, according to the Justice Department.

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