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Japan's Myanmar Policy (from Burma
- Subject: Japan's Myanmar Policy (from Burma
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 10 Nov 1995 23:53:00
Subject: Japan's Myanmar Policy (from Burma Debate)
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>From BURMA DEBATE
EMBRACING THE FUTURE:
JAPAN MUST RETHINK ITS MYANMAR POLICY
By Ichiro Uchida
The release of Aung San Suu Kyi provides Japan with an
important chance to rethink its policy toward Myanmar.
Keeping in step with Europe and America, the Japanese
Government sustantially suspended Official Development
Assistance (ODA) to Myanmar following the 1988 coup d'etat
and the subsequent establishment of the ruling State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Japan's decision to halt ODA was the appropriate measure at
that juncture. Certainly, most Japanese would never condone
SLORC's violations of human rights, nor believe it should
remain in power after having ignored the results of the 1990
general election. It is doubtful, however, that it continues to be
appropriate to maintain sanctions on Myanmar because of its
track record on human rights and democracy.
Perhaps it is more useful to focus on the way SLORC has been
able to build the nation while isolated from the world over the
past six years. True, the Myanmar people have been denied
freedom of speech and assembly and many have been unjustly
jailed for political reasons. At the same time, the lives of
farmers have definitely improved when compared to General
Ne Win's era, primarily because SLORC has raised the
government procurement price of rice. Urban dwellers are also
aware that their lives are on an upswing by the fact that more
schools are being built and more commodities are on the
market. Although people remain cautious about SLORC
leadership, certain aspects of life in Myanmar have gotten
There has also been a shift in the geopolitical situation which
cannot be ignored. Over the past six years, China has been the
only country supporting Myanmar. The two have built deep
relationships, both politically and economically, as consumers
in Myanmar become more and more dependent upon Chinese
products. The continuance of worldwide sanctions will serve to
strengthen military ties between the two countries as well.
ETHNIC - MINORITY PROBLEMS
SLORC has managed to bring many of the diverse minority
rebel forces to the negotiating table. It unilaterally announced a
cease-fire with all minority rebels in 1992. Before that,
SLORC maintained open communications with the rebels for
six years, finally reaching cease-fires with 14 of the 16 groups
involved. One of these groups, the KIO (Kachin Independence
Organization), had the second largest army in Myanmar.
Of the two remaining rebel armies, SLORC refuses to recognize
the Mong Tai Army (MTA) led by General Khun Sa as a
minority group - regarding it as a mere terrorist organization
that will be eradicated if it does not surrender. Therefore, the
last remaining rebel army is the influential Karen National
Union (KNU). Although internal disputes between the
Buddhists and Christians in the KNU have recently developed
into armed conflict, SLORC still expects to reach a cease-fire
agreement with the whole of the Karen. It may, however,
require more time to establish a peace. Making matters even
more difficult, internal KNU conflicts are going on near the
boundary with Thailand. This, in turn, strains Myanmar - Thai
Yet, no other administration in the long history of Myanmar has
succeeded in solving ethnic problems without outside
assistance, and this point is praiseworthy. SLORC has given
priority to the issues of the ethnic minorities by raising the stan-
dard of living and developing industries in local areas following
the signing of the cease-fires. When I met General Khin Nyunt
(Secretary No. 1) in 1992, he emphasized that it was his
government's mission to prevent his nation from becoming a
The ethnic minorities also see the importance of negotiations.
They are putting much effort toward achieving a true peace in
all of Myanmar with SLORC. The world must be made aware
of these accomplishments.
For example, in July of this year, the KIO leader, U Zaw
Maing, met SLORC and observers from Japan, the UNDCP
[United Nations Drug Control Programme] and the United
States. The following agreements were reached:
1 . To halt poppy cultivation by educating the farmers and
moving them into other areas of crop production.
2. To strengthen regulations on the trafficking of in drugs in
Kachin State. Presently, there are routes into the Kachin State
from Pakistan and India, as well as Shan State, China and
3. To build rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and establish
job training programs
4. To deal with the narcotics issue not as a problem in
Myanmar, but as a regional one requiring the active
involvement of Myanmar's neighbors.
Ethnic problems in Myanmar derive from the large number of
groups involved, each with its differing interests They do not
share languages or life styles. Raising the standard of living for
all groups is an important theme for SLORC. In order to
achieve this goal they are promoting peace by constructing
schools, building roads and increasing the production of
agricultural goods. Both Japan and the U.S. should lend more
support to these efforts.
INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT OF THE SLORC
The relationship between the SLORC and the international
community changed a great deal after its peace agreement with
the KIO in 1994. The SLORC set about carrying out several
measures such as: releasing political prisoners; allowing
Professor Yozo Yokota, the special envoy of the U.N. Human
Rights Commission, to meet with political prisoners; having a
dialogue with U.N. representatives; and arranging the meeting
between U.S. Congressman Bill Richardson and Suu Kyi. This
created an environment that set the stage for Myanmar's entry
into the international community.
As a result, ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]
announced its 'Constructive Engagement' policy with Myanmar
and invited the country to attend the ASEAN Ministerial
Meetings in 1994. Other neighboring nations besides ASEAN
have rapidly increased exchanges with Myanmar in recent
years. Chinese government officials go back and forth to
Myanmar almost every month. The U.S. and Britain each sent
high - level government representatives to begin discussions
with the SLORC in 1994. Singapore's Prime Minister Goh
visited the into country the same year.
As a result of SLORC's economic policy, Myanmar s economy
has greatly improved. The share of Myanmar industries in
terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is: 53% agriculture;
22.3% trade; 6.5% manufacturing; and others. The majority of
the 22.3% in trade is in primary goods. This reflects SLORC's
policy to develop the nation's economy by expanding
In developing nations, it is an appropriate step to advance
agricultural productivity over manufacturing, as the
agricultural industry provides prosperity to the nation despite its
low productivity. Therefore, the Japanese Government should
actively support SLORC's promotion of agricultural
European and American companies, as well as those from the
ASEAN and Newly Industrialized Economics (NIES) countries
have entered into Myanmar's market in a big way. Siemens of
Germany reached an agreement to establish a communications
network throughout the country. As a result, it is now possible
to make international phone calls instantly, where only a few
years ago it would take as long as two to three hours.
Thailand has agreed to a sales contract for natural gas, which
will be effective in 1998 for the next 30 years, greatly
contributing to the influx of foreign currency into the country.
Singapore founded a joint - venture airline in 1994 and the
Korean automobile company, Daewoo, is planning to
manufacture cars in Myanmar. Leading into the government -
promoted "Visit Myanmar Year of 1996," many hotels have
opened or are under construction.
It is widely said among business people that Myanmar has
fewer regulations on foreign investment and is easier to make
inroads than Vietnam. Because the people of Myanmar
generally speak English, communication is not a problem.
There is no income tax for the corporations for three years and
custom duties on raw materials are also waived; both measures
serve as an incentive for foreign investors.
The Japanese Government maintains the same position as
Western countries, that is - Myanmar should improve its
human rights record and create a viable democracy. To achieve
results in these areas however, diverse approaches must be
adopted. Some countries apply strong pressure on Myanmar to
force change. The Japanese Government's approach has been to
generate change through continuous peaceful talks based on
The democratization process does not need to follow one route.
SLORC, during General Saw Maung's era (from 1988 to
1990) certainly took the wrong road. Since General Than
Shwe came to power in 1990, however, policies have changed.
Many important efforts toward achieving democracy have been
made. As mentioned political prisoners have been released,
universities have been reopened, and discussions were held
between Aung San Suu Kyi and SLORC officials prior to her
History has proven that a certain amount of disciple is necessary
in order to maintain social stability during the process of
democratization. This said, basic human rights in all societies
should be absolutely protected. Achieving this universal value
is a great challenge and we must always seek to stop violations
of human rights wherever they exist.
The question to ask, however, is whether a nation is seriously
pursuing this objective and whether it is showing any progress.
In this regard, President Clinton's political decision to separate
human rights problems from Most Favored Nation (MFN)
renewal with China was the right decision. The Japanese
Government should evaluate to what degree the Myanmar
Government is improving human rights and pursuing
democracy. In this process the Japanese should consider ways
to encourage steps toward these goals. It should especially
provide active support for humanitarian purposes such as
improving the infant mortality rate, fighting drug abuse, and
dealing with AIDS and other life -threatening diseases such as
tuberculosis and malaria.
Grant aid of 100 hundred million yen(about $10 million which
the Japanese Government promised in March of this year helps
SLORC's aim to increase food production for minority ethnic
groups living near the borders. This is effective support that
will help solve the tribal conflicts in Myanmar and help the
areas develop peacefully.
To achieve real democratization it is indispensable to create a
middle class. SLORC is throwing its energies into economic
development, but there is a pressing need to improve the
infrastructure throughout the country.
The Japanese Government announced in July 1995 its review
of ODA policy toward Myanmar. As a result of that review,
Tokyo will reopen basic humanitarian assistance on a project -
by- project basis. Now the time has come for the Japanese
Government to consider resuming full-scale ODA in order to
advance economic development in Myanmar, while paying
close attention to that country's progress with regard to human
rights and democratization.
(Ichiro Uchida is Senior Advisor at the Mitsui Marine Research
Institute in Tokyo. He served as political advisor to Japan's
Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, and as a research fellow
with the Asia Foundation.)