Japan Will Stop Accepting Military Students from Myanmar

According to a recent government announcement, the Japanese Ministry of Defense will stop accepting military students from Myanmar for its training program from the 2023 fiscal year onward. Japan had continued to accept Myanmar military officers for training despite the 2021 military coup which overthrew Myanmar’s democratic government. The 11 Myanmar military officers currently undergoing training in Japan will be allowed to complete their studies. Four were accepted into the program this year- three into the National Defense Academy and one into an Air Self Defense Force officer candidate school.

The Ministry of Defense had faced significant domestic and international pressure over its continued to ties to the Myanmar military.  In April, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi defended the continuation of the program by arguing that instilling military students with democratic values may contribute to restoring democracy in Myanmar, telling media that “by thoroughly teaching these students about the way an organization works in a democratic country, I hope [the program] will help to rebuild the future of Myanmar”.

Some Japanese-trained Myanmar military officers may have been implicated in the abuses carried out by the Myanmar junta.

However, the defense of the program was not enough to alleviate criticism. Japan’s continued policy towards Myanmar stood out poorly when considering that other democracies such as Australia swiftly cut their ties with Myanmar military following the 2021 coup. Human Rights Watch activists warned that continued training of Myanmar officers may implicate Japan in violence against civilians while in Tokyo, grassroots protests against abuses in Myanmar remain a common occurrence. Some have also accused Tokyo of sacrificing values by seeking to counter Chinese influence in Myanmar by appeasing the Myanmar junta.

However, the junta’s decision to execute four political prisoners at the end of July was likely the straw which broke the camel’s back – 84 more are on death row. A United Nations representative said earlier this week that the situation in Myanmar had gone “from bad to worse, to horrific”. On September 16, at least 11 children were killed in an airstrike carried out by the Myanmar military as part of its operations against anti-coup forces.