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Learn More About Myanmar

About Myanmar

Myanmar lies at the west end of southeast Asia, encircled by Thailand, China, Laos, India, and Bangladesh. It is about 68,000 square kilometers in area and it more than twice the area of Japan. The population is about 51million. Seventy percent are Burmese, and the other 30% is made up of 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government, including Shan, Karen, Kachin, and Rakhine. About 90% of the population is Buddhist, while others are Christian, Islamic, Hindu, etc.

The coup and civil wars

After about a half a century of military dictatorship, Myanmar completed the transfer of power to civil administration in 2011. Even though Thein Sein, from the National Army took office as president, the nation still moved toward democratization. In the 2015 general election, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a big victory.  As a result, military control ended. Most citizens were delighted as there was renewed hope that the military oppression would end, and democracy in Myanmar would flourish. Under the Suu Kyi regime from 2016, there was hope for positive development and an atmosphere of freedom was overflowing among the people:

“I want to study and go abroad.”

“I want to start a business by using the internet.” 

“I want to make money and have a car.” 


It was a time when people had such dreams. However, because the military still had a lot of power, the revolution did not necessarily progress.


The dreams collapsed overnight on February 1st in 2021 when the military launched a coup, and arrested high government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Most of the citizens were outraged about this, as they felt that their future was take away. Young “z-generation” people, the center of the movement for change, went to town and raised their voices in protest.

By the end of February, the protests had spread around the nation, with several million people involved. However, that is also when military oppression against the protesters came into full swing. After encircling the demonstrators, soldiers  fired automatic rifles at them. They blew away the demonstrators’ barricades with rockets. Young people thought to be suspicious were arrested one after another without evidence.


Young people who, due to the military attacks, could not join protests at the center of cities and had no choice but to escape to the border area. 

Many of them thought that they would be killed, even for protesting in a peaceful way, so some young people did training and started to prepare for an armed uprising. People’s Defense Force (PDF) organized in various places against the coup. In September, the citizen-organized National Unity Government (NUG) declared, “Fight for Self-Defense,” and the civil war started between the PDF and the Ethnic Minority Armed Forces fighting against the military.

The war spread all over the country, including to Chin, Kayah, Karen, Sagaing and Magway regions. The military responded to the PDF’s guerrilla attacks with indiscriminate massacres of local residents and the burning of villages. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), approximately 34,000 houses were burned from the start of the coup until December 2022. The number of displaced and fleeing people was 1.1million.


Why the military staged a coup

Historically, Myanmar politics have been led by the military, so it was hard for the military to accept Suu Kyi’s position that the military’s role should only be for national defense and should not have positions in non-military government affairs. As well as there being members of the military in the Diet, each government office included staff who had retired from the military, and had a big influence on the administration in each field. Also, Min Aung Hlaing, the national army commander and mastermind of the coup, was ambitious and in private discord with Suu Kyi.


In addition to ruling in politics, the military also managed various business groups, for example, the petroleum industry, mining, beer, communications, banking, TV station and other media.  The reason given by the military was that it was for soldiers’ welfare and their health benefits. The military had a sense of crisis when these interests were threatened under NLD political power. The 2008 constitution written by the military permitted military coups. In this constitution, if the president declares a state of emergency, the powers of the three branches of government would be transferred to the military commander. 


In February 2021, the civilian president, Win Myint was detained, and the Vice president, who was from the military, became acting president, declared a state of emergency, and took control of the government. Also, the constitution established the high independence of the military. In addition to three cabinet members, including the minister of the Interior who were under the umbrella of police, the military can nominate 25% of diet member seats, so the NLD regime was searching to reduce that power.


In Myanmar, there have often been coups, such as when General Navin took power in 1962, and after the 8888 Uprising for democratization in 1988 when the military again took power. Civil war with armed ethnic minority groups has been ongoing since immediately after independence in 1947.


The Rohingya crisis in 2017 occurred when the military executed a strategy of driving then out of Myanmar. That action created 700,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees. There were many atrocities that the military have repeated in these civil wars, such as the burning of whole villages.

Myanmar and Japan

 Myanmar and Japan have a deep historical  connection. The hero of Myanmar independence, General Aung San, was the father of Aung San Su Kyi, and received military training from the Japanese army. Aung San and other activists were trying to push the UK out with their independence movement.  Then,  they were trained by Colonel Suzuki Keiji and other intelligence officers on the Chinese island of Kainan which was under Japanese control, and then formed the Burma Independence Army.


When Japan started the Pacific War in 1941, they immediately invaded Myanmar and subdued the government in Rangoon with the “Burma Independence army”. Then, Japan supported the development of the nation. However, Aung San and others thought independence was just in name, and it turned out to be a puppet government. When the Japanese Army suffered a crushing defeat in 1944 in Operation Imphal due to a shortage of supplies, Aung San and others rebelled against Japan. 


 After WWII, Myanmar gained independence in 1948, but Aung San was assassinated in the previous year and could not see that day. Since independence,  Myanmar has had strong connections with Japan. At the time of the rice shortages in Japan after the war, people of certain age groups remember eating imported rice from Myanmar. Myanmar completed wartime compensation negotiations with Japan, and soon the Baluchaung Hydroelectric Power Plant and other infrastructure was built with Japanese technology, including Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), and Hino Motors built the factories. 

The USA has regarded Myanmar military attacks on its people as a problem for many years and imposed economic sanctions because of these human rights violations. Yet, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has continued to maintain their office in Yangon.


After the transfer of power to civilian rule in 2011 the Thein Sein regime was born, and Myanmar suddenly attracted the attention of Japanese companies as a new business opportunity. Japan’s public funds are invested in a wide range of fields including railway maintenance, electricity, healthcare, legal preparation support, and industrial park maintenance. More then 400 Japanese companies were doing business in Myanmar, including such strong brands as Toyota and Canon. Also, the Japanese government used Myanmar’s debt to Japan to pressure them to allow the restart of Official Development Assistance(ODA). In 2016, Japan promised 8000 billion yen to support with in the public and private to Aung San Suu Kyi the national adviser and foreign minister who came to Japan.


Since the coup, Japan has asked several times for the immediate cessation of the violence against the citizenry,  the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and other detained people, and the early recovery of the democratic system. In June 2021, a resolution that was critical of the coup was passed by both the upper and lower houses of Japan’s National Diet. 


While Japan froze new ODA projects, they continue to support existing projects. There is a lot of criticism that the Ministry of Defense accepts officers and cadets from Myanmar for military training with Japanese Self-Defense Forces at the National Defense Academy. There are many calls from Myanmar people to stop the support of the military, and said that the Japanese government should stand for justice.


According to a survey conducted at the end of 2021, about 37,000 Myanmar people live in Japan. In addition to international students, many Myanmar people are engaged in nursing care, fishing, restaurant work, and other jobs that most Japanese people avoid doing. Among Myanmar people living in Japan, many different groups are continuing street fund-raising activities in urban centers for victims of the oppression and civil war in their nation, even though two years have passed since the coup. 

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