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Myanmar and Japan: How Close Friends Become Estranged

Discussion Papers

No.118

August 2007

ABSTRACT

Independent Myanmar and Japan had long held the strongest ties among Asian countries, and they were often known as having “special relations” or a “historically friendly relationship.” Such relations were guaranteed by the sentiments and experiences of the leaders of both countries. Among others, Ne Win, former strongman throughout the socialist period (1962-1988), was educated and trained by the Japanese army officers of the Minami Kikan, leading to the birth of the Burma Independence Army (BIA). Huge official development assistance provided by the Japanese government also cemented this special relationship. However, the birth of the present military government (SLORC/SPDC) in 1988 drastically changed this favorable relationship between the two countries. When the military seized power in a coup, Japan was believed to be the only country that possessed sufficient meaningful influence on Myanmar to encourage a move toward national reconciliation between the junta and the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In reality, Japan failed to exert such an influence due to its sour relations with the military government and reduced influence in the new international and regional political landscape. What is worse, Japan seems to be losing its say on Myanmar issues in the international political arena, as it has been wavering in limbo between the sanctionist forces, such as the United States and the European Union, and engagement forces, such as China and ASEAN.

Keywords: Myanmar (Burma), Japan, China, ODA, Foreign Relations, Cold War
JEL classification: F14, F35, N45

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