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Hi Blog. A bit of a tangent today. The author of this article asked me for some input some months back, and I steered him towards some resources that talked about Japan’s historical involvement with Burma (and deep ties between the ruling junta and Japan’s WWII government — to the point of using the Imperial Army’s public order maintenance style over its colonies as a template to repress domestic dissent). Even with recent changes in Burma’s government, Japan’s engagement style is reportedly not changing — it’s still up to its old nontransparent policymaking tricks. I put up this article on Debito.org because it relates to the Abe Administration’s perpetual use of China not only as a bugbear to stir up nationalism and remilitarization, but also something to encircle and contain, as Abe visits more Asian countries in his first year in office than any other PM (without, notably, visiting China). Nothing quite like getting Japan’s neighbors to forget Japan’s wartime past (and, more importantly, Japan’s treatment of them as a colonizer and invader) than by offering them swagbags of largesse mixed with a message of seeing China instead as the actual threat to regional stability. Result: Who will agitate for the offsetting of Japan’s historical amnesia if the descendants of their victims (or their governments, lapping up the largesse) will not? These are the “arrows” Abe is quietly loosing, and this time outside Japan in support of his revisionism. Arudou Debito
Japan’s lack of transparency threatens Burma’s development
Demographic Voice of Burma News, October 31, 2013, By Jacob Robinson,courtesy of the author
Japan’s traditional approach to diplomacy – characterised by “quiet dialogue” – is becoming a threat to Burma’s fragile reform process. In recent weeks, the Japanese government has demonstrated an alarming lack of transparency regarding both its role in Burma’s peace process and land grabbing problems at Thilawa, Japan’s flagship development project near Rangoon. Eleven News also reported on Tuesday that a Burmese parliament member demanded greater transparency about how Japanese financial aid is distributed to Burma’s health sector.
Perhaps of greatest concern is Japan’s abysmal response to land grabbing problems at Thilawa. When landgrabbing reports first surfaced in January 2013, a Japanese company developing Thilawa responded to media inquiries by saying that land issues were the sole responsibility of Burma’s government. The following month, a spokesman for Japan’s embassy in Burma took the same position, saying that Thilawa land issues were “very complicated” and that Burma’s government was solely responsible for land grabbing issues.
This kind of detached and dismissive response from Japan was nothing less than a public relations disaster. It also set off alarm bells among members of the international community who were hoping that Japan would play a responsible role in Burma. It wasn’t until this October – over 10 months after the initial land grabbing report – that Japan’s government finally decided to take some responsibility for land grabbing by holding a meeting with Thilawa landowners. Not surprisingly, The Irrawaddy reported that the meeting was off-limits to the media and held behind closed doors.
Japan’s secretive approach to such an important issue is an ominous sign that Japan is stubbornly clinging to its “quiet dialogue” approach to diplomacy, whereby Japanese officials “gently encourage” foreigners to capitulate in stuffy private meetings that are tightly controlled and choreographed by Japan. Japanese officials just don’t seem comfortable doing business any other way. But being uncomfortable isn’t an excuse. There’s a good reason why transparency has become a rallying cry for Burma’s opposition, and Japan will need to adapt. A lack of transparency breeds corruption, and corruption stifles development. So if Japan really wants to foster sustainable development in Burma it simply has to change its ways…
In other words, Japan is starting to destroy an amazing opportunity that practically fell into its lap when Burma’s military decided to give Japan a prominent role in developing the “new and improved” Burma. One reason why Japan has been so favoured lately is because it’s viewed as a “friendly” alternative to China. But if people start to equate Japan’s tactics with those of China, the whole game changes and Burma will be less willing to grant Japan special privileges.
Japan also made a huge mistake by asking Yohei Sasakawa to serve as Japan’s official peace ambassador in Burma. Sasakawa is a member of Japan’s far-right historical revisionist movement which still somehow thinks Japan was the victim rather than the aggressor of World War II. Sasakawa also cultivated personal ties with Burma’s former military dictatorship, and not surprisingly Sasakawa has yet to disavow his father’s controversial support for fascism.
In his blog, Sasakawa even sings high praises for former junta leader Than Shwe, an outrageous position which immediately puts him at odds with millions of Burmese citizens. As a personal friend and apologist of Than Shwe, it’s clear that Sasakawa should have been disqualified from the peace process from the beginning…