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"Japan's Myanmar Policy is Red Flag
- Subject: "Japan's Myanmar Policy is Red Flag
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 15 Jan 1996 00:17:00
Subject: "Japan's Myanmar Policy is Red Flag for U.S."
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>From the Los Angeles WORLD REPORT
A Special Section Produced in Cooperation with the Yomiuri
January 15, 1996
JAPAN'S MYANMAR POLICY IS RED FLAG FOR U.S.
By Jim Mann
WASHINGTON- Japan is pressing ahead with a troubling
idea of how it and America should deal with the rest of Asia.
Let's divide up our roles, Tokyo in effect tells Washington.
You play the bad cops, and we'll be the good cops. You
Americans make the threats, and we Japanese will distribute
the rewards. You be the tough-guy superpower, and we'll run
around as the sympathetic sugar daddy.
Americans seem to be too naive or too inattentive to have
thought about the implications of this curious division of labor
Tokyo apparently is suggesting. But they should. For in
effect, if not intent, Japan is moving in the direction of
undermining American policy toward Asia.
In the process, Tokyo is also giving credence to some of its
severest critics, such as Japan scholar Chalmers Johnson, who
says the Japanese government expects the United States to
retreat from Asia over the next decade and is quietly, gradually
preparing for what happens in the region after the Americans
The best case study of Japan's approach is its policy toward
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and the military junta
called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Military officials in Myanmar massacred thousands of
civilians during demonstrations in 1988. The junta reluctantly
agreed to hold parliamentary elections in 1990, but then
refused to honor the results or leave office after opposition
forces led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory at the
Threatened by her popularity, the junta ordered Suu Kyi
detained for "endangering the state" and held her under house
arrest for six years. She was finally released in July amid talk
of new efforts toward political reconciliation in Myanmar.
Since then, however, it has become increasingly clear that
Myanmar's generals viewed the release of the Nobel Peace
laureate as the end, not the beginning, of its steps toward an
easing of repression. They have refused to make compromises
with Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy,
which after all won more than 60% of the votes in the 1990
The junta has stationed soldiers outside the homes of
opposition officials. Last month, state - run newspapers in
Myanmar suggested Suu Kyi was a traitor and said she and her
pro - democracy colleagues would be "annihilated" if they
made the country "unstable."
Within Washington, there have been some internal divisions
about policy toward Myanmar. But on the whole, the U.S.
policy has been relatively firm: The Clinton administration has
tried to exert as much pressure as possible on the military junta
to give up the power it seized six years ago.
Japan is another story. It has shown a disturbing willingness to
give recognition, legitimacy and benefits to the junta.
Last summer, soon after the release of Suu Kyi, the Japanese
government announced it was opening the way for Myanmar
to begin receiving foreign aid from Tokyo once again. So -
called Overseas Development Assistance funds from Japan to
Myanmar, which had been cut off in 1988, began flowing this
fall when: Tokyo approved a $16-million grant for a nursing
school in Yangon (formerly Rangoon).
When asked, Japanese officials defend their more conciliatory
policy as merely another way, of doing what the United States
wants: encouraging the military to open up to democracy. One
of Tokyo's top officials for Myanmar, Shigeo Matsutomi,
director of the First Southeast Asia Division within Japan's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made the rounds in Washington
recently, visiting the White House, the State Department,
Congress and some journalists.
Matsutomi's pitch was sophisticated. He did not challenge
American policy toward Myanmar. Indeed, he seemed to
praise and encourage it: You Americans approach Myanmar
with a clenched fist, and there are advantages to that tough
approach, he said. At the same time, he went on, Japan wants
to persuade the generals through "dialogue" and to use its
development funds as a "carrot" to persuade the generals to
change their ways. America should use its clout as a military
superpower, and Japan will use its economic leverage.
Japanese officials seem to be executing their new Myanmar
policy in a fairly slow and careful way. This fall, Japan was
talking about giving Myanmar a second infusion of foreign aid
with a $48 million project to improve electric power in
Yangon. But Tokyo held up the loan after the junta toughened
its policies toward Suu Kyi and her allies in the National
League for Democracy.
"In the current situation [in Myanmar, it is extremely difficult
[to give more foreign aid]," explained Matsutomi, who has
visited Myanmar four times in the past year.
However, you can see the pressures at work in Tokyo from a
recent statement issued by the Keidanren, Japan's most
powerful business lobby. Last month, the Keidanren urged the
government to resume lending to Myanmar immediately. It
said holding up on foreign aid was one of the most important
roadblocks to better business ties between Japan and
For the United States, the problem is not in how well or badly
Japan carries out, its resumption of foreign aid to Myanmar. It
is much more fundamental: The whole concept of Japan
playing good cop to America's bad cop in Asia is flawed in the
The conciliatory policy allows Japan to have it both ways.
Japan can tell the junta that it is working to moderate
America's tough policy on Myanmar, while telling Washington
that it is attempting to ease the Myanmar regime's hard-line
opposition to democracy.
Tokyo's policy permits it to give the foreign aid which, as the
Keidanren knows, Japan has historically used as a spur to trade
and other business activity.
Japan's approach conveniently opens the way for it to curry
favor with the rest of Southeast Asia, while leaving the United
States as the odd man out.
Other countries in the region, like Thailand, Malaysia and
Singapore, have long favored a policy of "constructive
engagement" toward the Myanmar junta. Japan now seems to
be lining up more closely with these countries and breaking
ranks with the Americans.
It may have the ring of plausibility for Tokyo to talk about a
division of roles on Myanmar, with the United States wielding
clout as a military superpower and Japan using its leverage as
an economic superpower. But the argument doesn't stand up
to critical analysis. The whole American approach to the
generals has been based not upon military threats but on
economic sanctions and political isolation. Japan's aid to
Myanmar undercuts the American policy and helps the
generals remain in power.
On Myanmar, Japan is showing that its policy toward Asia,
and its interest in democracy, is quite different from that of the
United States. President Clinton might keep that fact in mind
when he makes his trip to Tokyo this spring.
(Jim Mann is a Times staff writer and columnist based in