This article interrogates one of the most important emerging bilateral relationships in East Asian international relations: Japan’s politico-economic relations with Burma/Myanmar (herein referred to as Burma). A long-time ally since the Second World War, Japan’s role in Burma came under increasing and eventually unbearable pressure with US sanctions from the 1990s. However, since 2011 Japan has rapidly extended its influence in Burma—influence understood multi-dimensionally as comprising institutional, ideational, and material power—and built upon those well-established historical ties. This rush to rejuvenate relations has been driven by more than historical amity. It has been due to various shifts in the forms of state in East Asia and changes in the regional power order—principally increasing competition with China—and has also been informed both by Burma’s desire to begin internationalizing and industrializing and Japan’s enthusiastic assistance in this process. The article interrogates three key questions associated with these post-2011 developments: What has been the nature of Japan’s rush to rejuvenate its relations with Burma? Why has this been such a priority for Japan at this time? And how has Japan been endeavoring to secure its foreign policy goals with Burma? It concludes that Burma is in the middle of a period of great tension, and despite its democratic transformation (or rather because of it) is not best placed to handle the forces bearing down upon it. Great caution and attention is needed towards Burma, the “final frontier” of Southeast Asia, as big changes are coming and with these come significant and potentially overwhelming challenges for the country, its leaders and its people.
- Burma transition
- Greater Mekong Sub-region
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Political Science and International Relations