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For Japan, Myanmar coup brings fears of threat to business, political ties

Myanmar soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on a road leading to the parliament building Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. (AP Photo)

TOKYO -- Fears of a setback for democracy have been growing in the international community following a military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1 that saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained.

    Myanmar has had close political and economic ties with Japan since 2011, which came with the development of its democracy and easing of economic sanctions by the United States and Europe. Myanmar's potential market of over 50 million people and its low labor costs have led it to be called Asia's "final frontier," and more than 400 Japanese companies have expanded their businesses to the country. As of December 2020, 3,505 Japanese nationals live there.

    The Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Myanmar, whose affiliates include Japanese firms with bases in the country, had only 53 company members by the end of fiscal 2011. This had increased to around 436, around eight times as many, by the end of January 2021. Their network comprises a variety of sectors including construction, manufacturing and finance. In May 2019, Toyota Motor Corp. announced that it would build a new assembling plant for its vehicles.

    Burmese nationals living in Japan protest the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in front of the United Nations University in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Feb. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

    Political ties have also been strengthened through mutual visits by leaders of both countries. Japan was very supportive of Myanmar until the 1980s, and its past prime ministers including Kakuei Tanaka and Takeo Fukuda, both now deceased, visited the country. Since the military crackdown on pro-democracy movements in 1988, the Japanese government has continued to provide humanitarian and civilian assistance and other forms of support, and maintained a certain degree of relations with the military regime while arranging fewer visits by Japanese high-ranking officials.

    Mutual visits by leaders subsequently resumed with the development of democracy in Myanmar. In April 2012, then President Thein Sein visited Japan, and in April 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi, then chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), came to Japan for the first time in 27 years after her release from house arrest. In May 2013, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese leader to visit Myanmar in 36 years. Suu Kyi has also come to Japan three times since 2016, and attended Emperor Naruhito's enthronement ceremony in October 2019.

    (Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Foreign News Department)

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