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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Japan's Response to the Myanmar Junta's Repression Needs to Be Tougher

The Myanmar military continues to suppress democracy 3 years after it seized power in a coup d'etat, displacing people and costing many lives. 

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The Myanmar military junta's commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing shown in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw (Naypidaw) in March 2021. (©Reuters = Kyodo)

Three years have passed since Myanmar's military seized full power in a coup d'état. Many lives have been lost, and the land has been devastated. The people of Myanmar are struggling to survive, and the humanitarian crisis is deepening. Citizens of the country are resisting any way they can, including "silent labor strikes." Or else they are picking up weapons to resist. 

Clearly, the military government lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the populace. It must immediately end repression and begin a dialogue premised on the restoration of democracy. Members of the international community, including Japan, should provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons who have been forced to flee their homes due to fighting and other reasons. 

On January 31, the military government announced a six-month extension of its state of emergency declaration. Under the provisions of the Constitution, elections have been postponed to February 2025. 

Myanmar - Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. (©Reuters, 2018)

Deaths and Displaced Persons

According to Myanmar human rights groups, more than 4,400 people have died in crackdowns over the past three years. Furthermore, the United Nations has reported that the number of internally displaced persons has reached about 2.6 million.

Some pro-democracy forces are increasing their military offensives in coordination with armed ethnic minorities. Together they have already captured over 500 posts belonging to the Myanmar military.

Furthermore, large-scale surrenders by government troops and other reported developments indicate that morale is sagging in the ranks of the Myanmar military. The cohesive sway of the military regime's top commander, General Min Aung Hlaing, is reportedly weakening.

Nevertheless, Myanmar's military remains in firm control of urban and other populated areas. And observers do not expect the democracy and ethnic minority insurgents to be able to reverse this situation through military force.

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In May 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur reported that Myanmar's military was importing weapons from China, Russia, and other countries. Furthermore, Russian-made fighter jets have been used in indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians. Both China and Russia must immediately halt their furnishing of such weaponry being used for inhumane ends.

People A crowd is protesting in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Japan on February 1, 2023 (© Kyodo)

3 Years of Military Hell

The United States and the United Kingdom marked the third anniversary of the coup by imposing additional sanctions on companies and their officers having dealings with the Myanmar military. They aim to cut off funds for the junta by banning transactions with companies based in their own countries.

Meanwhile, Japan's response has been weak-kneed, to say the least. Although it has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who headed the government before the coup, it has kept its distance from sanctions.

Japan, as an Asian democracy, should be actively involved in Myanmar, such as trying to promote dialogue among its factions.

The international community tends to focus on Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza. But the tragedy that has been unfolding in Myanmar for more than three years must not be forgotten.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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