Japan Errs Again
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Magazine

EDITOR'S PERSPECTIVE

Japan Errs Again


By The Irrawaddy MAY, 2001 - VOLUME 9 NO.4


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The surest sign that the talks between Burma’s ruling junta and the democratic opposition were in serious trouble came in early April, when Japan’s then-Foreign Minister Yohei Kono announced that his country was ready to "reward" the regime to the tune of $28 million for repairs to a hydroelectric power station in Karenni State. What’s the connection? The Land of the Rising Sun has a long history of casting too favorable a glow on developments in the Land of the False Dawn. Indeed, every major false start since the regime seized power in 1988 has been accompanied by overtures for a resumption of aid from Tokyo. But the latest "breakthrough" always seems to break down once Rangoon has sized up the likelihood that Japan—always worried about what the rest of the world might think—will come through. Whether or not the money materializes, the diplomatic charade soon outlives its usefulness, and Burma is back to square one. Perhaps this is putting too pessimistic a spin on the current situation. But how much longer can the people of Burma be expected to hold their breaths in anticipation of real progress, afraid that if they exhale they will be blamed for blowing out the candle of hope? As for the aid itself—yes, the people of Burma are desperate for more power. But electricity is not the power that will take this benighted nation into the modern world. Until the nation’s people are empowered to choose their own leaders, throwing money at a power station that serves mainly as a symbol of Japan’s past largesse will do little to satisfy Burma’s practical or political needs. Ironically, the decade that Tokyo has spent heaping praise on empty gestures from Burma’s military rulers is the same decade that Japan’s conservative ruling party has hollowed out the world’s second largest economy with futile efforts to maintain the political status quo at home. Changes are afoot in Tokyo, with a new "maverick" prime minister heading the Liberal Democratic Party, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to break with the wasteful practices of the past. Suspending the proposed aid to Rangoon, which better serves vested interests in Tokyo than it does the people of Burma, would be a good place to start. Burma has seen far too much artificial light at the end of the tunnel. If Japan wants to prove that it has Burma’s interests at heart, it must push for more concessions from the regime before doling out more money. Anything less would be a betrayal.

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