• AFP-Jiji, Kyodo

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The government has halted new aid to Myanmar in response to the coup there, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said, but is stopping short of sanctions imposed by some nations on military and police commanders.

Japan is a top aid donor to Myanmar, and Motegi said the suspension of assistance would send a "clear" message.

"For Myanmar, Japan is the largest provider of economic assistance," he told the Diet on Tuesday.

Motegi argued that withholding official development assistance, or ODA, would do more to put pressure on the military than sanctions, saying, "If you consider which is more effective, I think it's pretty clear."

"What stance is Japan taking in terms of economic assistance? There is no new aid. We are taking this clear position."

The United States, U.K. and the European Union have announced a range of sanctions targeting top police and military commanders linked to the coup, as well as military-owned companies.

But Japan, which has strong economic ties with Myanmar and long-standing relations with its military, has opted not to take more directly punitive measures.

"It's not that sanctions are courageous and nonsanctions are not," he told a legislative committee.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Japan's aid to Myanmar totaled nearly ¥190 billion in fiscal 2019, by far the biggest contributor other than regional rival China, which does not disclose corresponding data.

The suspension reportedly affects only new aid, and not existing projects, according to media reports.

More than 500 civilians have been killed in the Myanmar military's crackdown on protesters, and world powers have ramped up their condemnation of the campaign against the anti-coup movement.

Japan has joined other Group of Seven members in condemning the coup and urging the release of Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other detained members of the National League for Democracy, which decisively won last November's general election.

The military seized power on Feb. 1, claiming the election results were fraudulent and imposing a one-year state of emergency.

But Tokyo has been reluctant to impose sanctions due to its strong economic ties to Myanmar and relations with the military, which directly ruled from 1962 to 2011. It is also wary that Beijing could take advantage of the situation and increase its clout in the country.

About 450 Japanese companies, mostly in the manufacturing sector, operate in Myanmar, and Japan is the fifth-largest foreign investor there, according to the Myanmar government.

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