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Myanmar Junta’s Man in Japan Cozies Up to Military’s Proxy Party

Myanmar’s Crisis & the World

Hideo Watanabe, left, presents a gift to Union Solidarity and Development Party chairman U Khin Yi.

Junta apologist Hideo Watanabe, who heads the Japan-Myanmar Friendship Association, met with U Khin Yi, chairman of the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in Naypyitaw on Monday.

Their meeting at USDP headquarters came soon after both were awarded honorary Thiri Pyanchi titles by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing for their “strenuous cooperation to bring about peace, development and prosperity in Myanmar”.

It also followed talks between Watanabe and deputy junta leader Soe Win.

Watanabe, a former lawmaker for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, represents Japanese investors in Myanmar.

His meeting with the military regime’s proxy party came as the junta prepares to hold what it claims will be an election next year. The “election” has been denounced both locally and internationally as a sham in which Min Aung Hlaing will use the USDP to cement his power.

Senior members of the USDP were present at the meeting as U Khin Yi revealed the party’s eight top proprieties and its current activities. Watanabe declared his closeness to the military’s proxy party, discussed his political career, and said he wanted to foster ties between political parties in his home country and Myanmar, according to U Khin Yi’s Facebook post.

U Khin Yi wrote that he and Watanabe had met at the same venue back in 2016 when he was chairing the USDP’s International Relations Committee. Despite his advanced age of 88, Watanabe’s political thought remained fresh and insightful, the USDP chair gushed.

Watanabe meets with U Khin Yi at USDP headquarters in Naypyitaw.

Watanabe has had close ties with the USDP since the time of ex-general U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government of 2011-2016. In May, the Japanese politician met former USDP chair U Than Htay.

Watanabe’s ties with Min Aung Hlaing go back a decade, and the pair met shortly before and after the military chief staged his coup last year in February.

Regime apologist 

Following the military takeover, Watanabe told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper that Min Aung Hlaing had not staged a coup but “done what he should have in accordance with the law.”

In late May 2021, as the number of Myanmar civilians killed by the regime passed 800, Watanabe’s son Yusuke, who is secretary general of the JMA, wrote in The Diplomat that Min Aung Hlaing’s coup was constitutional and Japan should continue to boost its “special relationship with the Tatmadaw,” using the respectful name for Myanmar’s military.

Watanabe insisted that he was not siding with the military, but “didn’t want people to say that the military was suppressing and killing its own citizens.” He said he believed personal assurances that Min Aung Hlaing would bring genuine democracy to Myanmar.

Founded in 2010 as the then-military regime’s proxy party and packed with former army officers, the USDP took office in 2011 via an election branded fraudulent by international observers but then suffered resounding defeats in the 2015 and 2020 general elections. After its latest defeat, the party worked hand in glove with the military to demand a new election. The party organized large pro-military rallies targeting the Union Election Commission ahead of the coup.

U Khin Yi masterminded the rallies as USDP vice chair, before being handed the post of immigration minister in Min Aung Hlaing’s regime. He stepped down a few months ago to take the helm of the military’s proxy party after Min Aung Hlaing announced plans to hold a so-called election next year.