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Japan to Suspend Myanmar Military Training Program

Decision Opens Door for Targeted Sanctions Against Junta

Officers march during a parade to commemorate Myanmar's 77th Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2022. © 2022 AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo

On Tuesday, September 20, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced that as of 2023 it would no longer accept new military personnel from the Myanmar military for training in Japan. The ministry cited the junta’s execution of four pro-democracy activists in July as a major factor in its decision.

“We decided it’s not appropriate to continue the military cooperation and exchange in its current form,” said Takeshi Aoki, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry. However, two officers and nine cadets who are currently receiving training at Japan’s National Defense Academy and Japan Self-Defense Forces facilities will remain until their programs finish.

Since 2015, Japan has accepted cadets and officers from Myanmar under article 100-2 of the Self-Defense Forces Act, which permits training and educating foreign nationals in Defense Ministry facilities with the defense minister’s approval. Following Myanmar military’s coup in February 2021, Japan accepted  two officers and two cadets in 2021 and another two officers and two cadets in 2022.

In May, Human Rights Watch and Justice For Myanmar located Myanmar Air Force Lt. Col. Hlwan Moe, who received training at Japan’s Air Command and Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, at Magway Air Base in Myanmar’s central Magway Region. Military units deployed at the air base have been implicated in serious abuses, including possible indiscriminate airstrikes in Magway. In August, Human Rights Watch found that Myanmar Army Brig. Gen. Tin Soe, who received training at Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force Staff College from August 2016 to March 2017, was based at Eastern Command headquarters from August 2021 to July 2022. Eastern Command oversees operations in southern Shan and Karenni (Kayah) States and its forces were responsible for a massacre of civilians and other atrocities.

The Defense Ministry’s decision to suspend the training program is critical to ensuring that Japan does not risk becoming complicit in Myanmar military abuses. It is a small and long overdue step, but one that should embolden the Japanese government to join with other democracies that are taking stronger action against the junta. Japan should publicly voice its support for the draft Myanmar resolution that Britain circulated at the United Nations Security Council. That resolution reportedly calls for a global arms embargo on Myanmar that would prohibit all military training and imposes sanctions on the junta.

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