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EDITORIAL | Myanmar: Time for Japan to Support Sanctions on the Junta

The military government in Myanmar does not listen to calls for dialogue. Meanwhile, thousands have died or been arrested, and one million have been displaced.

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Myanmar protesters residing in Japan raise photos of Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally to mark the second anniversary of Myanmar's 2021 military coup, outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Tokyo, Japan February 1, 2023. (© REUTERS/Issei Kato)

Two years have passed since the military staged a coup d'etat and seized full power in Myanmar. Many Myanmar citizens lost their freedom and their lives. Others were forced to flee the country. Its market economy, which was expected to be the "last frontier in Asia," has also been forced into retreat.

Yet, despite the repression of the military junta, the people continue to resist. And some pro-democracy groups have joined with ethnic minorities in armed struggle. The past two years have shown once again that the military regime has neither legitimacy nor support from the people. 

The Japanese government has been emphasizing dialogue. However, instead it should cooperate with the United States and Europe to steer a course toward isolating the military regime.

February marks a milestone for Myanmar. This is because their constitution stipulates that the state of emergency, which is the basis for the military's control of the country, can last up to two years. 

On February 1, however, the military announced a six-month extension of the declaration, citing the current security conditions. As a result, general elections, which were supposed to be held by August, are now far from being held. 

Needless to say, fairness cannot be expected in an election when democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been excluded and instead sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison.

A crowd is protesting in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Japan on February 1 (© Kyodo)

Human Loss and Injury

According to Myanmar human rights groups, 2,940 people have been killed and 13,763 detained as of January 31 in the military junta's crackdown. Moreover, over 1 million are now refugees.

What is frustrating is Japan's response. Japan has called for an immediate cessation of the violence. But it has distanced itself from sanctions, claiming that it provides a channel for dialogue with the military that the West does not have. However, there is no indication that Japan's voice is being heard.

Thomas Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has called in his report for a "coalition of Member States to establish and enforce strategic, coordinated sanctions." He points out that the current effort is less effective than sanctions against Russia. His report also calls for Japan to "act immediately" to impose sanctions on the military government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno admitted Japan is seriously concerned. "The Myanmar military is not listening to the voices of the international community, and there are no signs of an end to the violence," he remarked in his February 1 press conference. 

However, simply being concerned about the current situation will not solve the problem.

Much of the international community's attention has been focused on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, leaving Myanmar behind would embolden authoritarian leaders such as those of China and Russia. Both countries are also noted as backers of Myanmar's military junta. 

As the current chair of the G7, Japan should consider imposing sanctions in line with those of the United States and Europe.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun