Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Research seminar

Meddling for profit: Japan’s peace-building role in Myanmar

Friday 9 December 2022

Verbarium (room 104, first floor)


Please register at least 4 days in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper and the log in details.

Abstract: A number of academics and pundits have proclaimed Japan’s status as ‘Asia’s liberal leader’. Much of this literature plays up Japan’s role in finalizing trade deals and sidelines issues related to other aspects of liberal leadership, such as peace-building, human rights, and democratization. This chapter from my forthcoming book: Disciplined Democracies: Human Insecurity in Japan-Myanmar relations, examines how, as Myanmar transitioned to a ‘disciplined democracy’ following general elections in 2010, so the Abe Administration sought to mediate in Myanmar’s long-standing ethnic conflicts. By playing a peace-building role in Myanmar, the Abe Administration could demonstrate its contribution to the liberal international order.

The ‘value-based rhetoric’ underpinning Japan’s peace-building approach masked a broader economic rationale. Pacifying Myanmar’s turbulent border regions was key to the Japanese government’s regional ambitions, notably building key infrastructure to connect Myanmar’s neighboring Mekong states with the Indian Ocean. This chapter charts how the Japanese government’s state-centric approach to development failed to: (i) comprehend the complexity of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts, (ii) adequately involve ethnic communities in the peace-building process, and (iii) address Myanmar’s refugee problems. The chapter concludes that the Japanese government’s emphasis on economic development and connectivity further destabilized Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts and undermined the human security of ethnic communities. Despite the February 2021 coup, the connections between the Japanese government and business elites with Myanmar’s junta remain strong. As Myanmar descends into civil war, claims that Japan can act as ‘Asia’s liberal leader’ should be reassessed.

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