Japan business lobbyist backs Myanmar coup, urges investment By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Hideo Watanabe, the chairman of the Japan-Myanmar Association, speaks throughout an interview with Reuters in Tokyo August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo


By Ju-min Park and Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters) -A Japanese former politician who campaigned to deliver billions of {dollars} of investment from a few of Japan’s prime firms to Myanmar has urged Japan to endorse its army regime, saying the nation’s coup chief has “grown fantastically as a human being,” whereas praising his “democratisation efforts.”


The 87-year-old former cupboard minister, Hideo Watanabe, can be pursuing a $42-million shopping center investment in a tie-up with a agency linked to a sanctioned military conglomerate, in response to a transcript of his remarks seen by Reuters and company filings.

Watanabe’s outspoken push for Japan’s re-engagement with the Myanmar army authorities stands in distinction with Tokyo’s official stance, which has lower new assist and referred to as on the army to cease the violence. Japan has sought to stability its help for Myanmar democracy towards its efforts to counter China’s affect there, officers and analysts have stated.

Watanabe and the Japan Myanmar Association (JMA) he chairs declined to remark, as did Japan’s overseas ministry.

His place additionally poses a dilemma for a few of Japan’s largest firms who sponsor the JMA – a sort of foyer group and knowledge alternate for Myanmar investment in Japan that he based, business leaders and activists say. These JMA members, like different multinationals, are beneath strain from activists to step away from their investments in Myanmar, together with within the particular financial zone that Watanabe helped set up.


Watanabe, who additionally stated the army’s seizure of energy in Myanmar was “lawful”, made his remarks on the JMA’s common assembly on June 30, when discussing his current journeys to the nation, throughout which he met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing. His feedback, first reported by business publication Toyo Keizai in Japanese, have been printed in a publication circulated to affiliation sponsors and seen by Reuters.

At least six firms have give up the JMA this yr and one member firm has pushed again on Watanabe’s feedback, in response to the businesses concerned.

That firm, XYMAX Corp, a property administration agency, stated it had expressed considerations to the JMA concerning the affiliation’s place on the coup a number of occasions this yr. “We don’t support the coup at all, and we can’t support comments that seem to endorse the coup. There’s no change in our position there,” Ryuhei Mori, an government for worldwide business at XYMAX, informed Reuters.

Toyota Motor (NYSE:) Corp, which in 2019 introduced plans to make Hilux pick-up vans within the particular financial zone, give up Watanabe’s group earlier this yr. A spokesperson declined to debate Toyota’s departure, together with its timing. The firm’s manufacturing plans for Myanmar have been placed on maintain because the coup, Toyota stated.


Hotel chain Vessel Hotel Development Co and IT agency Global Innovation Consulting informed Reuters they give up the affiliation after the coup. Vessel stated the corporate “wanted to cut costs,” and Global Innovation Consulting stated the membership didn’t yield “continuing benefits” for the corporate.

Musashi Fusoh, a garment maker, informed Reuters it resigned as a result of it judged the knowledge it was getting didn’t justify the fee. SPARX Asset Management and bank card firm JCB International Co stated additionally they left the affiliation earlier this yr.

Some firms, whereas distancing themselves from the Myanmar army, have remained within the JMA. Among them, Kirin Holdings (2503.T) in February scrapped its long-standing alliance with a conglomerate linked to the Myanmar army after outcry from human rights observers over the coup.

Kirin determined to terminate the partnership because the coup was towards its human rights coverage, a spokesperson stated. The firm declined to touch upon Watanabe’s remarks.

Automaker Suzuki Motor Corp and Japan’s largest buying and selling home, Mitsubishi Corp, which have remained within the JMA, declined to touch upon Watanabe’s remarks. Suzuki stated it prioritised the security of its employees, whereas Mitsubishi stated human rights are one of many components it considers when doing business.

Masao Imamura, a professor of Southeast Asian historical past at Japan’s Yamagata University, stated Watanabe was influential in framing Tokyo’s financial coverage on Myanmar and Japanese firms have relied on his affect and entry to do business.

“Large Japanese corporations active in Myanmar have been embedded with people like Watanabe too long and too deeply, so they don’t know how to exit,” Imamura, who was a part of a coalition that challenged the JMA’s coverage on Myanmar earlier this yr, informed Reuters.

In May, a month earlier than the JMA assembly, Yusuke Watanabe, Watanabe’s son and the affiliation’s secretary basic, wrote an article printed within the Diplomat saying Japan ought to act as a bridge to Myanmar’s junta fairly than following the Western coverage of “regime change”.

Imamura, and others, together with representatives of Myanmar residents in Japan, human rights teams and overseas coverage specialists, wrote an open letter to JMA company sponsors in response.

Yusuke Watanabe’s article, they stated, uncared for to say “human rights violations such as killing, violence, detention, and suppression of speech against civilians by the military.” They requested each member firm whether or not they supported the JMA’s place, as expressed by the youthful Watanabe. The group stated his remarks have been a option to “justify the coup.”


Hideo Watanabe has acted as Japan’s top-level conduit to Myanmar on economic ties since 1987. His personal connections mean he has more access to senior officials than all but a few foreigners. Watanabe was central to a 2011 deal that saw Japan provide nearly $5 billion in aid and debt forgiveness in exchange for rights to develop a port near Yangon.

In a written statement, Myanmar’s army authorities informed Reuters Watanabe was “a long-time buddy” who “all the time seeks higher relations between the governments and residents of the 2 nations”.

Underscoring his standing in Myanmar, final month the junta credited Watanabe, together with U.S. former diplomat Bill Richardson and Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the Nippon Foundation, when it launched a jailed U.S. journalist, Danny Fenster.

Beyond its business membership, the JMA is stacked with politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, together with ex-prime minister Taro Aso and a number of other former ambassadors to Myanmar. Aso’s workplace declined to touch upon Watanabe’s remarks.

Myanmar’s army overthrew the elected authorities of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, claiming election fraud, and earlier this month sentenced her to 4 years in jail. More than 1,300 protesters have been killed by troops, impartial observers say.

Despite his help for Myanmar, Watanabe expressed some misgivings. At the June assembly, Watanabe informed the affiliation that “not the whole lot that the army is doing was OK” and stated he had requested the final for a roadmap to democracy in return for investment. He stated it was vital to create circumstances to carry elections promised by the junta by 2023.

At the identical time, Watanabe spoke of his “friendship” and “belief” with the junta chief, who’s beneath sanctions by the European Union and United States, saying that “to stop the outbreak of civil battle in Myanmar, Japan ought to help the present nationwide system, even when simply to a minimal extent.”

The junta stated in response to questions posed by Reuters that Watanabe’s mall undertaking was ongoing. Watanabe, who stated he didn’t encourage investments that might immediately profit the army, informed the JMA he would replace on the undertaking as soon as “there are concrete developments.”

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