The Platform

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For decades, democracy and human rights have been under siege in Myanmar. The military’s wholesale impunity for the outrageous crimes against minorities and other Burmese civilians in the past has set the stage for war crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims. The United Nations labeled the genocidal crackdown as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Since the crackdown and forced exodus of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar has faced widespread condemnation for human rights violations. Yet, Myanmar remains reluctant to create a conducive environment for a voluntary, safe, and dignified return of the displaced Rohingya despite signing an agreement in 2017.

Key regional powers like China, Russia, and India are not interested in taking any actions against Myanmar thanks to their narrowly defined geopolitical calculations.

Japan has been largely silent on the Rohingya issue. To its credit, Japan has provided financial assistance to Bangladesh while it cares for over a million Rohingya refugees. Taro Kono, Japan’s former foreign minister, visited the Rohingya refugee camps in 2019 when he reportedly said that his government’s help and support for the Rohingya will remain uninterrupted. Yet, Japan has abstained from voting on every UNGA and UNHRC resolution that sought to put pressure on Myanmar in order to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Human rights groups have criticized Japan’s stance. In 2019, Human Rights Watch published a report that criticized Japan’s approach to the crisis.

Japan needs to realize what is at stake in Bangladesh without a sustainable solution to the Rohingya problem.

Since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, Japan has been a trusted development partner. Bangladesh, one of the fastest-growing economies in the region, is a significant market for Japan, with a population of 170 million.

On the other hand, Bangladesh has backed Tokyo’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as its position on nuclear weapons. Bangladesh, as a fledgling democracy, has always sought a peaceful and diplomatic solution to all regional and international disputes. Thus, despite some blowback, Bangladesh still aspires to maintain amicable relations with Myanmar.

While Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Cambodia allow China to use their strategic ports, Bangladesh has deferred to Japan to build the Matarbari Port. The port has the potential to become a major commercial and connectivity hub, as well as a key trade gateway to Asia and beyond. Such strategic investment will surely bolster Japan’s positive economic and political clout in the region.

Japan must keep in mind that since the Rohingya crisis erupted in the region, it has all the possibilities to directly threaten the QUAD countries’ strategic and economic vision that values the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and freedom. Thus, it is Japan’s vital responsibility to join and influence other key players in the region in order to play a visible and effective role to address major regional issues like the Rohingya crisis for peace and stability.

Japan’s silence on the Rohingya crisis has yielded no fruits and it won’t do any good for Asia. Rather, this deafening silence will further complicate an already worse crisis.

Japan must bring an end to its policy and take a strong stance for justice and human rights across all international platforms on issues like the Rohingya crisis in line with its own peace-centric constitution. Japan needs to keep in mind the great words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Parvej Siddique Bhuiyan is a development worker and commentator on security studies, and a graduate student in International Relations living in Dhaka, Bangladesh.