The Japanese government will seek dialogue with the Myanmar military even as it criticizes it for the Feb. 1 coup. By leveraging its connections with the nation’s military junta, Japan hopes to convince it to revive the country’s democratization process. In pursuing this unique approach, Japan risks finding itself in a difficult position, if the United States and European nations take a more hardline approach.
According to a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese government contacted the Myanmar military on Feb. 4 via the Japanese Embassy in the country. Few Western nations have been in touch with the military since the coup.
A senior official at the U.S State Department said, “We appreciate that there are nations that maintain close contact with the Myanmar military,” presumably thinking of countries such as Japan. The U.S. seems to expect that Japan will bridge the gap between the international community and Myanmar to some extent.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing in 2014, when Suga was Chief Cabinet Secretary. Japan maintains ties with both the military and the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wary of China’s emergence, Japan has been very careful to build relations with Myanmar. If Japan withdrew its support of Myanmar, China would increase its influence over that nation, as it is of critical geopolitical importance to China. China is holding back from overtly criticizing Myanmar, thinking that Myanmar’s dependence on China would increase if its relations with Western countries were to deteriorate.
It would be a difficult balancing act for Japan if Western countries were to impose sanctions on Myanmar, as they did when the nation was under military rule in the past. Some say that Japan’s maintaining ties with Myanmar will not stop the nation from depending on China. (Abridged)