ACAS' IAB member's take on Myanmar & Japanese sanctions

The article below appeared online in Japan Times, September 29, 2007. Professor Kei Nemoto is a member of the International Advisory Board of Ateneo Center for Asian Studies (ACAS).

Kei Nemoto, a foreign studies professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, favors imposing economic sanctions on Myanmar to underline Japan's displeasure with the military government's use of violence.
"The junta may consider sanctions by Japan irrelevant, but we need to send a clear message to them," the expert on Myanmar's history and politics said, adding that a strong gesture would be consistent with the response of the international community.
"Although its (sic) unlikely that the Foreign Ministry will agree, I think it has come to the point where the Japanese ambassador in Myanmar should be recalled to Japan (as a sign of protest)," Nemoto said.
Unlike the United States and some European countries, Tokyo has not imposed serious economic sanctions on Myanmar to avoid isolating it from the international community. According to the Foreign Ministry, Japan's exports to Myanmar totaled ¥26.56 billion, while imports from the country came to ¥12.64 billion in 2006. Japanese grants to Myanmar were worth ¥1.35 billion, while technical assistance was worth ¥1.73 billion in the same year.
While maintaining economic ties, the government says it has urged Myanmar to promote democratization. But after the military government put Nobel Peace Prize-winning prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest again in May 2003, Tokyo stopped providing new official development assistance to the Southeast Asian country, except for urgent and humanitarian assistance projects, including construction of hospitals and schools in rural areas.
Suu Kyi's house arrest also triggered more Myanmar people in Japan to apply for refugee status. They are now the largest group of foreign nationals seeking political asylum.
According to the Justice Ministry, 626 Myanmar nationals applied for refugee status last year, compared with 38 in 2002.
In contrast, the ministry accepted only 28 people from Myanmar and six other asylum-seekers in 2006. In the same year, another 33 people from Myanmar were also given official residency permits due to "humanitarian considerations" although they were not officially recognized as refugees like the others, the ministry said.
Lawyer Shogo Watanabe, who represents many Myanmar asylum-seekers in Japan, said the current situation there may push the Japanese government to grant more Myanmar nationals either refugee status or official residency permits.
"In the least, the government must not decide to send people who are seeking protection here back to (Myanmar) under the current situation," he said. "I don't think they actually can."

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