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ASEAN-Japan Centre under fire for Myanmar grant

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SINGAPORE, 29 May 2023: The Tokyo-based ASEAN-Japan Centre on Trade, Investment and Tourism provided a grant to the Myanmar junta’s investment and foreign economic relations ministry for a capacity-building programme on reforms required to implement international investment agreements according to Justice for Myanmar, quoting leaked documents and public sources. (Story updated 29 May with a statement from ASEAN-Japan Centre – see below.)

The grant was awarded for the 2022-23 fiscal year and financed at least one event held in March 2023, opened by EU-sanctioned junta minister Kan Zaw.

The ASEAN-Japan Centre has refused to disclose to Justice For Myanmar details of funds provided to the junta, stating that the information is only available to board members. The ASEAN-Japan Centre is an intergovernmental organisation made up of the Japanese government and the governments of each ASEAN member state, including Myanmar.

Justice for Myanmar asserts the capacity-building grant is one of several ASEAN-Japan Centre initiatives with junta ministries, legitimising the junta, encouraging business engagement and building the capacity of junta staff. The centre has an active partnership with the junta’s hotels and tourism ministry, supporting the junta’s attempts to promote tourism, which provides it with legitimacy and a source of foreign revenue.

The ASEAN-Japan Centre is now promoting tourism to Myanmar as part of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan “friendship and cooperation” and has launched a website in Japanese. In consultation with the junta, the site includes five ideas for Japanese tourists to visit Myanmar, misleading the Japanese public that it is a safe and ethical destination for a holiday.

That comes despite the clear call from the legitimate National Unity Government (NUG) against tourism to Myanmar. In November 2021, Minister of Planning, Finance and Investment Tin Tun Naing told the Straits Times, “The people of Myanmar are being killed, raped, detained and their houses and possessions seized or destroyed. This is not a time for sightseeing”.

Since late 2021, as the junta’s attacks against citizens intensified, the junta tourism ministry organised regular training and seminars supported by the ASEAN-Japan Centre. These involved the participation of junta minister Htay Aung and Japanese ASEAN-Japan Centre senior members, aimed at promoting Japanese travel to Myanmar.

In January 2022, the ASEAN-Japan Centre supported the junta in running a Japanese culinary skills training, opened by Htay Aung and ASEAN-Japan Centre Secretary General Kunihiko Hirabayashi.

In late 2022 and early 2023, Htay Aung opened seminars for service providers of Japanese tourists in Bagan and Kalaw with ASEAN-Japan Centre officials, which were featured in junta propaganda. Myanmar army and police participated in the November 2022 seminar on enhancing the understanding of service providers for Japanese tourists.
See: https://www.mdn.gov.mm/en/moht-union-minister-attends-2nd-hybrid-seminar-enhancing-understanding-service-providers-japanese.

The ASEAN-Japan Centre has also supported the junta in providing Japanese language training for tour guides.

A third junta ministry the ASEAN-Japan Centre works with is commerce, supporting it to promote market access in Japan. Under that programme, a workshop was held in January in Nay Pyi Daw and again touted in junta propaganda. The workshop was opened by the permanent secretary of the junta’s commerce ministry, Min Min, and Yuka Kubota, an ASEAN-Japan Centre senior executive.

The ASEAN-Japan Centre’s actions to include the junta on its council representing Myanmar, to fund junta ministries, to provide capacity building and to promote business links embolden the junta to continue its campaign of terror against the people of Myanmar with total impunity.

Justice For Myanmar “urges the ASEAN-Japan Centre and all other organisations to immediately remove the junta from its council and end all support. 

Justice For Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung says: “ASEAN and Japan are now celebrating 50 years of friendship and cooperation. Yet this anniversary has shown that ASEAN and Japan’s friendship in Myanmar is with the illegitimate military junta, not the people being slaughtered in the junta’s relentless attacks. 

“The ASEAN-Japan Centre’s activities with the military junta support its illegal and failed attempt to gain control of Myanmar and embolden its ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Without an immediate end to ASEAN and Japan’s support for the junta, the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan relations will be forever tarnished with the blood of Myanmar people.”

Yadanar Maung concluded: “It is abhorrent and inexcusable that the ASEAN-Japan Centre is engaging with the Myanmar army and police as tourism ‘service providers’ instead of international criminals carrying out an ongoing campaign of murder and torture.

“The ASEAN-Japan Centre’s unethical conduct in Myanmar, celebrated in junta propaganda, shows clearly how tourism benefits the junta and must not be promoted at this time.”

(Source: Justice For Myanmar)

TTRW emailed the ASEAN-Japan Centre asking for a comment from the centre’s media spokesperson.
Story update 29 May 2023: ASEAN-Japan Centre responds

TOKYO, 29 May 2023: The ASEAN-Japan Centre would like to inform the public that the press release issued by Justice for Myanmar on 26 May 2023, regarding the activities of the ASEAN-Japan Centre contains some factual inaccuracies, including the statement that the Centre provides grants to member states and misinterpretation of our activities. The correct information is as follows:

  1. The Centre does not provide grants to member states. It is an international organisation dedicated to promoting trade, investment, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN member states and Japan. Each ASEAN Member State can use 80% of its obligatory contributions for its own promotional activities at its discretion. The projects identified by Justice for Myanmar, except for the “50 Mindful Travel in ASEAN” project, fall under this scheme.
  2. “50 Mindful Travel in ASEAN” is a tourism project approved by the Council of Directors of the Centre to promote the ASEAN region as a whole on the occasion of the 50th Year of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation. This project aims to promote tourism in the ASEAN region as a whole and does not specifically aim to promote tourism to Myanmar.

The Centre works for the benefit of the people in ASEAN and Japan. Promoting tourism is one of the pillars of our activities due to the wide-ranging economic benefits that tourism can bring and its contribution to improving the lives of people in the region. In any case, the Secretariat of the Centre maintains a politically neutral stance in all our activities.

Visit the ASEAN-Japan Centre 50th anniversary website
https://aseanjapan50.jp/en/

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