Japan could freeze all Myanmar aid, foreign minister warns

Japan is a top donor to Myanmar, and has already suspended new aid after the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. PHOTO: AFP PHOTO / CHIN WORLD

TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo could put on hold all aid to Myanmar, Japan's foreign minister warned in an interview published on Friday (May 21), as the military junta continues to use lethal force against opponents of its coup.

Japan is a top donor to Myanmar, and has already suspended new aid after the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

But Mr Toshimitsu Motegi, speaking to the Nikkei newspaper, said the freeze could be expanded.

"We don't want to do that at all, but we have to state firmly that it will be difficult to continue under these circumstances," he said.

"As a country that supported Myanmar's democratisation in various ways, and as a friend, we must represent the international community and convey that clearly."

Japan announced in March it was halting all new aid to impoverished Myanmar in response to the coup, though it has not imposed individual sanctions on military and police commanders implemented by some other countries.

Mr Motegi has said Japan is Myanmar's largest provider of economic assistance, and Tokyo has longstanding relations with the country's military.

According to the Nikkei, Tokyo provided US$1.74 billion (S$2.32 billion) in development aid to Myanmar in fiscal 2019, more than any other country with disclosed figures. China's aid figures are not public.

More than 800 people have been killed in Myanmar since the military ousted Ms Suu Kyi in a Feb 1 coup.

A Japanese journalist arrested covering the aftermath of the coup was released last week and returned to Tokyo.

The development came as Japan said it had offered Myanmar US$4 million in emergency aid through the World Food Programme.

Tokyo has called for Ms Suu Kyi's release and the restoration of democracy.

Mr Motegi told the Nikkei that Tokyo was continuing a dialogue with the junta. "We have a greater variety of channels in Myanmar, including with the military, than Europe and the US," he said.

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