[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Japan has played ambivalent role fo

Subject: Japan has played ambivalent role for Suu Kyi

"Bridging the Gap" by Ryuzo Sato 
Daily Yomiuri, 5 August 1995

     After six years of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of
Myanmar's pro-democracy movement and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has
been released by the ruling military junta. Right after Suu Kyi was
awarded the Nobel Prize, I had an interview with her husband, Dr. Michael
Aris, who was then in Boston as a visiting professor at Harvard
     Since I teach at Harvard every fall, I made a request through the
university to interview Aris, who readily consented. 
     I was the first Japanese, I believe, to hear directly from her
husband about the private side of her life not reported by the mass
media--their courtship and a profile of Suu Kyi as a wife and mother. 
     Suu Kyi's late father, Gen. Aung San, "the founding father of modern
Burma,"was on close terms with Col. (later, Maj. Gen.) Keiji Suzuki of the
Imperial Japanese Army's general staff office. A native of Hamamatsu,
Shizuoka Prefecture, Suzuki died in 1967. Gen. Aung San once had visited
Suzuki at his home in Hamamatsu and stayed at the Hamamatsu Inn. 
     Suu Kyi made a sentimental journey to the inn and the area associated
with her father while living in Japan as a research fellow at Kyoto
University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. According to Aris, she
made the trip from Kyoto to Hamamatsu in 1986, accompanied by the younger
of her two sons. 
     Thus, two generations of Suu Kyi's family have had close links with
Japan: her father through his ties with Suzuki, and Suu Kyi herself, who
spent part of her academic life at Kyoto University. 
     After the military crushed Myanmar's democracy movement in a 1988
coup d'etat, Japan was the first of the industrialized democracies to
recognize the military junta and partially resume the supply of foreign
aid. Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement, protested the junta's
actions and not long afterward was put under house arrest. 
     She must have felt bitter that Japan, which became Myanmar's largest
source of foreign aid through the extension of yen credits, put trade
before principles. Aris made his own dissatisfaction clear when he told me
that the Japanese government had become the mouthpiece for Japanese
companies whose primary concern was profits. Its attitude toward the
Myanmar government was far more lax than that of the West, he said. 
     In dealing with a military junta that continues to suppress human
rights, Europe and the United States have adopted the tactics of the North
Wind in Aesop's fable. They have attempted to force it to change its ways
through the use of coercive measures such as the threat of economic
     Japan has taken the opposite approach and tried to soften the
military junta while continuing to provide economic cooperation. After Suu
Kyi's release, Japanese diplomatic circles seem to take pride that the
Japanese approach toward Myanmar had won out; but this highly doubtful. As
both Suu Kyi and Aris have correctly divined, peel away the surface of
Japan's accommodating attitude and what lies exposed is Japanese
     East Asia has been the center of rapid economic development. This has
been a period in which even the United States has tried to forge links
with China and Vietnam for the sake of economic profit. In an area fast
becoming the world's most vibrant economic zone, there has been a growing
sense within the Myanmar government that it would be left behind unless it
did something. 
     What makes a society work is a kind of organic power that strikes a
balance among contending forces: economic principles (the market), human
rights, government (occasionally, foreign policy) interests, and
international opinion. 
     In the case of Myanmar, the balance of these powers was in a state of
deadlock, and the country was courting stagnation. Even the military
realized that any further intransigence on its part would lead to national
disaster. In short, economic forces won out over everything else. 
     Suu Kyi has expressed her intention to choose dialogue rather than
confrontation. She has said that she hopes to use South Africa as a model
of former enemies working together to build a new nation. Her statement
conveys far-sighted intelligence that puts her country's long-term
national interests ahead of short-term political strife. 
     Japanese companies have been encouraged by the development of
Myanmar, but they must take care lest--by riding the wave promoting
economic principles--they indirectly help crush the forces that have been
working to return the country to the hands of the people. 
     The fact that Suu Kyi is wary about aid from Japan should put us on
guard in that area. Be that as it may, the happy day when she can once
again visit Hamamatsu as a leader of the Myanmar people may not be all
that far away.