During the parliamentary committee session on security on April 26, 2022, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi revealed that Japan will once again accept Myanmar military personnel for training at Japan’s defense facilities. This is the second time since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar that Japan has accepted members of the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, for a program that began in 2015.
Two Tatmadaw cadets and one officer will receive training at Japan’s National Defense Academy and a second officer will get training at Japan Air Self-Defense Force Officer Candidate School. Both facilities provide an extensive curriculum of academic and military training, including combat training. The defense minister sought to justify the decision by claiming that “cultivating even one person who understands civilian control and democracy will hopefully contribute to Myanmar’s future.”
The Japanese government’s supposed aim of reforming the Myanmar military from within is nothing more than wishful – and counterproductive – thinking. It also undermines efforts by other countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, to hold the Myanmar military to account.
The Tatmadaw has a dismal human rights record. In August 2017, the Myanmar military, under the command of now junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, carried out crimes against humanity and acts of genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State, forcing more than 740,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. About 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar, confined by security forces to camps and villages under conditions that amount to apartheid.
For decades in long-running conflicts in ethnic regions, the Myanmar military committed summary killings, rape, indiscriminate shelling, torture, arson, and other abuses against civilians with impunity.
Since the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s security forces have killed, tortured, and arbitrarily detained people opposed to military rule: abuses amounting to crimes against humanity. And the military has committed war crimes in renewed operations in ethnic areas.
If the Japanese government is serious about “contributing to Myanmar’s future,” it should stop cooperating with the Tatmadaw. Instead of training military personnel, the government should impose targeted sanctions against the Tatmadaw leadership and military-owned conglomerates. By training cadets and officers who may become involved, directly or indirectly, in atrocities, Japan risks becoming complicit in Myanmar military abuses.