Who are Myanmar’s Friends?

December 13th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  9 minute read
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However, what these countries must remember, is that the only way to forge real ties with the Myanmar people and its government, is through the National Unity Government, ethnic revolutionary organizations and civil society groups. 

Whether it is buying fighter jets from China, developing major infrastructure with India, allowing long-time Japanese ally to broker ceasefires, or pledging to build nuclear power plants with the help of Russia, Myanmar’s military junta is ratcheting its diplomatic offensive to gain friends and allies in the international arena. However, what these countries must remember, is that the only way to forge real ties with the Myanmar people and its government, is through the National Unity Government, ethnic revolutionary organizations and civil society groups.

Longtime friend of the Myanmar military and Japanese Special Envoy to Myanmar, Yohei Sasakawa, has been in the headlines again, as his outfit, the Nippon Foundation, took credit for brokering the recent ceasefire agreed between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military junta. The Nippon Foundation was set up by Yohei Sasakawa’s father, Ryoichi, who was deemed a Class A War Criminal for his exploits during World War II. Yohei Sasakawa had close ties with previous dictator, Than Shwe, enjoying hours-long dinner parties with him. While lauded for brokering ceasefires and playing a behind-the scenes role among ethnic armed organizations, his involvement in Myanmar’s affairs has never contributed to meaningful change. Rather, they have served to appease the Myanmar military and to stymie opposition. Another Japanese diplomatic effort is revealing about Japan’s priorities – commercial interests. Former lawmaker for Japan’s ruling, Liberal Democratic Party, Hideo Watanabe, met with the military’s proxy party – the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) – new Chair, Khin Yi, as well as one of the junta leaders, Soe Win this past few weeks. Crucially, Watanabe heads the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, which seeks to exploit business opportunities in the country, despite the damage the military is doing.

In stark contrast to these more high-level, diplomatic and trade ties, is the courage by Japanese filmmaker, Toru Kubota, who was illegally imprisoned for three and a half months on trumped up charges by the junta after attending and filming an anti-junta demonstration. Upon his recent release he urged the Japanese Government to do more, and to “take a strong proactive approach to human rights violations in Myanmar and also to more proactively criticize Myanmar for that.” He also reminded Japan of its close economic ties with Myanmar, and the need “to scrutinize very strictly whether such funds are being used by the military and are essentially being used to kill people.” Kubota has seen and experienced first-hand the terrible violence the junta is inflicting upon the country, and his rebuttal of Japan’s softly-softly approach is telling.

A series of diplomatic engagements have also occurred with various Chinese dignitaries. These include the political consul at the Chinese Embassy visiting the USDP-head, Khin Yi, while the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar met with junta officials, Yar Pyae, and Ko Ko Hlaing, donating money for Myanmar’s peace process. What Myanmar’s peace process does not need is money. It needs the junta to stop committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Myanmar. This includes ending airstrikes which are killing, maiming, and displacing whole communities, such as the airstrikes that were launched in Karen State or the bombs that were dropped on schools and monasteries in Sagaing and Magwe Regions, both in the past week. Incredulously, rather than urging the junta to stop these atrocities, China has sold the Myanmar military six fighter jets which it will surely use to cause more death and destruction for Myanmar people.

China is not the only neighbor that prioritizes profit over the tragic violence and killings. On the heels of the Sasakawa-brokered ceasefire, outlined above, the Indian consul met with the Junta’s Rakhine Chief Minister to finalize the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project. This comes after the Indian Foreign Minister visited Naypyidaw earlier in November to meet with Min Aung Hlaing, urging the revival of this major infrastructure and transport corridor project. In return India has offered to support Min Aung Hlaing’s planned farce ‘elections’ which the junta does not have the legitimacy to conduct. Closer ties between India and the junta are not lost on Myanmar’s resistance forces, as the PDF attack on a junta convoy from India, allegedly transporting weapons, was launched on the weekend of November 26-27.

As well as China, India, and Japan, one of the junta’s biggest allies is of course Russia, which is engaged in its own slaughter of civilians in Ukraine. The Myanmar military has long been a major buyer of Russian arms and military equipment, and this has increased since the coup attempt – the two countries seeing eye-to-eye on the acceptability of committing atrocities and putting a whole country into crisis. Most recently, these ties have extended to pledging cooperation on the building of nuclear power plants while a Russian military delegation also met with Min Aung Hlaing at the end of November, agreeing to more cooperation on ‘anti-terrorism.’

The junta is continuously trying to succeed with its’ illegal and brutal attempt to grab power through deepening military, commercial, economic, and diplomatic ties with powerful regional neighbors. Yet these countries are backing the wrong horse. Not only is it morally reprehensible to lend any type of support to the junta, but the military does not have control of large swathes of the country, is destroying the economy, losing on the battlefield, and facing increased defections from a demoralized military. The Myanmar people will not forget who its friends are when the revolution succeeds, and who supported their fight for a federal democratic future. This is of course, not limited to states, and perhaps this shows more than ever who are the allies in this fight. It is not businesses, states, or multilateral institutions, all of which have been ineffective at taking concrete actions or worse, supporting the illegal junta, but the people-to-people solidarity, such as that shown by filmmaker Kubota, that provide the moral, political, and material support for Myanmar’s Spring Revolution.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Statement On The Death Sentence Of Seven Dagon University Students By The Myanmar Military Council

By 223 Students’ Unions in Myanmar

ဒီမိုကရေစီအရေး ကြိုးပမ်းလှုပ်ရှားခဲ့သည့် ဒဂုံတက္ကသိုလ်ကျောင်းသား (၇) ဦးအား သေဒဏ်ချမှတ်ခြင်းအပေါ် ဗကသများအဖွဲ့ချုပ်၏ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက် – ကြေညာချက်အမှတ် – ၇/ဗကသ/၂၀၂၂

By All Burma Federation of Student Unions

New Report: Myanmar Military Defying UN Court On Rohingya Genocide. UN Security Must Uphold Court Orders

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Traders defy the law to import more teak into the USA from Myanmar than before the coup

By Environmental Investigation Agency

Terrorist military junta must immediately put an end to extrajudicial killings of detainees and use of death penalty

By General Strike Collaboration Committee

A Legal Analysis Statement of the Ceasefire Agreement Concluded Between the ULA/AA and the Military Council in Burma (The First Part)

By Legal Aid Network

Death Sentence on 7 Pro – Democracy Activist Prove the Ongoing Atrocities In Myanmar on Top of Ongoing Rohingya Genocide

By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization in Malaysia (MERHROM)

Joint Statement on the Imposition of the Death Penalty Against the People, Including Seven Students from Dagon University

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women, Youths and Children Affairs and Ministry of Human Rights)

Myanmar: UN Human Rights Chief alarmed at death sentences by secretive military courts

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar: UN Human Rights Office Deeply Concerned By New NGO Law

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar: Over 50,000 exposed to forced evictions and housing destruction, say UN experts

By United Nations Human Rights Council

Ending unmet need for family planning in a world of 8 billion: The innovations enabling access for all

By United Nations Population Fund

Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2022–23: New Early Warning Report

By United States Holocaust Memorial Museum



Prevent The Unthinkable

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Acts of Defiance: How US traders are ignoring sanctions to import conflict teak from Myanmar

By Environmental Investigation Agency

Monthly Overview: Human Rights Situation in Mon State, Karen State, and Tanintharyi Region | November 2022

By Human Rights Foundation of Monland

Breaking the binary: LGBT+ inclusive approach to the women, peace and security agenda in Nepal and Myanmar

By International Alert

Myanmar 2023 IFRC network country plan (MAAMM002)

By International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies

The Road to Civil War: the evolution and escalation of the war in Myanmar

By Myanmar Witness

Thirsting for blood

By Myanmar Witness

Killing Spree

By Myanmar Witness

Over 700 villagers flee indiscriminate Burma Army shelling during attack against SSPP/SSA in Hsipaw township

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

UNICEF Myanmar Humanitarian Situation Report No. 10, November 2022

By United Nations Children’s Fund

Myanmar Humanitarian Update No. 24 | 3 December 2022

By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2022–23: Early Warning Project Statistical Risk Assessment Results

By United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”