Through investigating the construction of Japan's first wartime reparations project—the Balu Chaung Hydropower Station Number Two in Burma—this article traces the formation of postcolonial power relationships within Japan's postwar technical aid system in Southeast Asia. Kubota Yutaka and his colleagues at Nippon Kōei, the development consultancy that planned and supervised the project, had long careers constructing dams and other infrastructure throughout Japan's former empire in Asia. This article examines how the visions, policies, expertise, and relationships from their colonial experiences were reconfigured in the 1950s through large-scale infrastructure projects into a new, postcolonial technical aid network linking the United States, Japan, and Southeast Asia during the Cold War. In addition to analyzing the reconstituted power relations at one particular site, this article also examines Japan's unique position as a major donor and receiver of foreign aid, thereby complicating conventional narratives of an advanced “West” assisting a developing Asia.
From Colonial to Postcolonial Development
“In Burma's mountains and fields where the blood of 185,000 Japanese soldiers once flowed…many Japanese returned once again to shed the sweat of atonement,” wrote Itō Hiroichi, a Japanese civil engineer, in his best-selling 1963 memoir about road construction for Japan's first wartime reparations project, Balu Chaung Power Station Number Two (1963: 102). This power station, Burma's first hydropower facility, was constructed between 1954 and 1960.1 Itō participated in the facility's construction as a midlevel engineer for the development consultancy Nippon Kōei. Kubota Yutaka and several other engineers who had over twenty years of experience building dams and other industrial infrastructure in Japan's former Asian empire had established Nippon Kōei in 1947. As Japan quickly became a global force in providing overseas development assistance, Nippon Kōei also grew and prospered. Kubota's company became known domestically as the “vanguard of Japan's industrial advance overseas,” and Kubota himself was later called the “Shōgun of the Mekong” in international development circles for his vital role in the Mekong River Development Project in Southeast Asia (Nagatsuka 1966: 372; Nippon Kōei 1981: 73). He was instrumental in persuading Japan's government to provide wartime reparations payments in the form of infrastructure projects, which would not only help industrialize newly independent Asian nations but also provide lucrative contracts and export opportunities to Japanese firms. The Balu Chaung hydropower project was the first of several large-scale infrastructure projects conducted by Nippon Kōei and funded by Japanese reparations or aid money, such as Đa Nhim Dam in South Vietnam, Nam Ngum Dam in Laos, and the Asahan River Dam in Indonesia.
This article on the Balu Chaung project analyzes how engineers who had once built large-scale public works for Japan's empire continued to employ their technical expertise abroad after the Asia-Pacific War (1937–45), as Japan reinvented itself as a democratic, peaceful nation dedicated to high-speed economic growth. Rather than viewing the colonial-wartime era as the polar opposite of Japan's transformation into a science and technology superpower after the war, my approach instead traces the postwar continuities of imperial discourse and power through an analysis of technical projects conducted by some of the same actors who had long careers in Japan's former empire. By revealing the postcolonial contours of Japan's influential postwar “developmentalist” model of promoting industrial growth through coordinated, large-scale infrastructure investment, this article contributes to the emerging field of postcolonial technoscience studies in Asia. In this journal's inaugural issue, editor Fu Daiwie suggested examining “distinctive East Asian networks” of science and technology that were “built up from their colonial and cold-war histories” as one way to “provincialize the Western centers and to revive non-Western science and technology their own indigenous subjectivity” (2007: 5, 7). By analyzing the formation of Japan's technical aid system through a focus on its first wartime reparations project, this article maps an alternative, transnational network of “ideals, materials, bodies, and capital” connecting Japan, the United States, and Southeast Asia (as opposed to the more frequently analyzed development networks linking Asian to Western nations and institutions) (Mizuno 2010). It focuses on the formation of neocolonial power relationships within Japan's technical aid network that emerged out of shared histories of Japanese colonial rule in Asia and the rise of the US Cold War order. While some studies have traced the origins of developmentalism in Asia in the histories of Western empires, little work has been done on the developmentalist legacies of Japanese imperialism and the postcolonial networks they helped constitute (Biggs 2010; Moon 2007). In this article, postcolonial refers to the era of decolonization after World War II when newly independent regimes began to formulate their own development agendas with the assistance of former colonial powers and the multilateral institutions they established. Neocolonial refers to the new forms of unequal power relationships created between what from the late 1960s became referred to as the “developed” and “developing” world, often with the active participation of elites and governments in formerly colonized, developing nations (Goldman 2006).
Additionally, this article examines how Japan's unique position as a receiver of international aid shaped the formation of its technical aid networks in Asia. The complicated flows of technology, experts, and knowledge between formerly colonized nations in Asia, Japan, and Western nations remain obscure, thereby preventing an understanding of how Japan's powerful developmental regime was formed and how it operated in specific international projects. Moreover, since Japan was simultaneously a receiver of Western assistance and a provider itself to the decolonizing world after the war, an analysis of its position in the global politics of foreign aid questions the simplistic framework of an advanced “West” assisting a developing “Asia.” It also provides an earlier reference point that increases our understanding of the overseas aid policies of such influential emerging donors today as China and India.
The Colonial Roots of “Comprehensive Development”
The overseas and domestic development philosophy that emerged in Japan during the 1950s and 1960s had strong links to the colonial era. Kubota frequently used the term “comprehensive development” (sōgō kaihatsu) when selling his development projects to leaders of developing nations. For example, he criticized the wastefulness of America's decision to construct a thirty-five-thousand-kilowatt thermal power plant as a backup for Japan's Đa Nhim Dam project in South Vietnam when there was little evidence that seasonal change would adversely affect hydropower production (Nagatsuka 1966: 342). Japan's “spirit of overseas technical cooperation,” he argued, was to create “non-wasteful plans that become part of the people's flesh and blood in accordance with that country's actual situation—comprehensive plans that incisively look towards the future.” For example, a power plant should not be thought of in isolation but should also “consider the country's future energy consumption and its conditions for developing industries to utilize that energy” (Kubota and Yamaguchi 1967: 52–53). Comprehensive projects should be grounded in the nation's specific economic and environmental conditions; be mapped out in detail and planned for the long term; be efficient, quick, and cheap to construct; and stimulate multiplying effects throughout the economy. Nippon Kōei specialized in infrastructure development projects that comprehensively integrated electricity production, flood control, agricultural development, and transportation improvement in various combinations to efficiently and rapidly promote industrialization. When Kubota started Nippon Kōei in 1947, he envisioned it as an engineering consultancy that would investigate, plan, design, and supervise a wide range of integrated development projects on the scale of his earlier colonial-era projects (Nagatsuka 1966: 279–80).
The comprehensive development paradigm originated in state-led development projects during the 1930s such as America's Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Soviet Union's Five Year Plans, but in Japan's case, what wartime engineers referred to as “comprehensive technology” (sōgō gijutsu) first took shape in the colonial context, particularly in Manchukuo and Korea (Moore 2013a). For example, Kubota, who had already built two dams for Japan's chemical industry in Korea, led the construction of Sup'ung Dam on the Yalu River between Korea and Manchukuo, which began production in 1941 and was the world's second largest dam. Sup'ung was expected to become this frontier region's “load center.” It not only produced electricity for Japan's wartime chemical industries in Korea and Manchukuo but also was coordinated with the construction of large ports on both sides of the river, a coastal industrial city south of Andong, new railway lines connecting to Manchukuo's natural resource sites, and river improvement projects. Japanese officials declared that Sup'ung, along with six other future dams on the Yalu, would usher in the “Yalu River Era of Developing Asia” and even lead to more industrial “load centers” on China's Yellow and Yangtze Rivers (Moore 2013b). Kubota also advised the construction of the multipurpose Fengman Dam to promote flood control, irrigation, and industrialization in Manchukuo; conducted studies of dam sites in north China and drew up “comprehensive plans” to use the electricity to develop a chemical industry in Tianjin; developed iron ore mines, railways, a power station, and port facilities on Hainan Island; and investigated dam sites in Indochina and the Dutch East Indies to industrialize their natural resources (Nagatsuka 1966: 193–95, 224–54). Thus, comprehensive development projects formed a key pillar of Japan's pan-Asianist ideologies of “constructing Asia,” liberating the continent from Western imperialism, and ushering in an era of Asian coprosperity.
Kubota continued to promote this development philosophy as he lobbied for contracts in India, Laos, Indonesia, Ghana, and other developing countries after the war. For example, in a striking invocation of Japan's wartime rhetoric, Kubota noted that Africa's newly independent countries needed “comprehensive national land development” to remove the strong economic and cultural legacies of “white imperialism,” and that Japan, as one of the “colored races,” had a duty to aid the process, which African nations could not achieve by themselves (Nagatsuka 1966: 374). He also emphasized Japan's status as “Asian” and argued that developing nations in the “Orient” would feel a “natural affinity” toward Nippon Kōei, that would help bring the benefits of comprehensive development to their respective countries (287). By suggesting that Japan understood racial and colonial inequalities from its own past and current history of trying to enter the ranks of the major powers, Kubota played up Japan's semideveloped status in the global competition for development contracts. As Japanese government and business leaders began to recognize their nation as an economic leader in Asia and a member of the advanced, industrial world—especially after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Japan's attainment of full membership status in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund that same year—they also invoked their recent history of rapid reconstruction and industrialization when addressing Asia's less developed nations (CIA Directorate of Intelligence 1967: 42–43).
A key component of Kubota's comprehensive development philosophy was his projects' emphasis on fitting each nation's specific economic and geographical conditions after thorough, on-the-ground investigations rather than on imposing ill-fitting frameworks designed by experts abroad. In his article on Japan's evolution as a donor in the 1950s, Sato Jin (2013) noted that key members of Japan's economic bureaucracy such as Ōkita Saburō and Aki Kōichi put forth a “grounded approach” to development at various regional forums such as the Colombo Plan and the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) (22). As Japan's economic leaders explored the question of how to comprehensively develop its own natural resources in a balanced manner, they argued that industrialization in Asia also needed to be grounded in each nation's particular natural resource situation and that therefore there were many paths to industrialization rather than a predominant Western one (22). Yet this “grounded” approach also had a history in the colonial era when Ōkita, Aki, Kubota, and many other experts and engineers conducted extensive studies on the Asian continent for the Asia Development Board, the Interior Ministry, and the Japanese military respectively (Kubo 2002; Moore 2013a). For example, invoking his colonial experience, Kubota insisted that his comprehensive plans were always grounded in a firm understanding of a nation's politics, economics, and society (Kubota and Yamaguchi 1967: 33). Thus, he laughed at wasteful American plans to build coal power stations in South Vietnam instead of planning comprehensive projects like Nippon Kōei's Đa Nhim Dam, which would be linked to the development of a large port and chemical industry at Cam Ranh Bay and utilize the area's natural resources for carbide production (52–53). As a result of his careful consideration of each country's actual conditions and the benefits that projects would bring to people, Kubota insisted that he was “loved by everyone from the highest politician to the lowest coolie” throughout his career (59). Thus, leaving aside the question of whether or not their blueprints were truly “grounded,” Japanese bureaucrats and engineers distinguished their frameworks from Western models by selling their plans as rooted to the particular needs and conditions of Asian nations—an approach they had developed during the colonial era when they formulated “technologies of Asian development” in opposition to Western colonialism (Moore 2013a: chap. 3).
The Balu Chaung Project and the Formation of Japan's Postcolonial Aid System
Upon returning to Japan after the war, Kubota recruited several of his colonial engineer colleagues to found Nippon Kōei. Kubota and his colleagues missed the excitement of demonstrating their “masculinity” in shaping “virgin frontiers,” which were increasingly scarce within the postwar borders of “tiny Japan” (Nagatsuka 1966: 287). During the Korean War, while American forces briefly occupied northern Korea, the US military hired Nippon Kōei to repair the very infrastructure they had built in the colonial era, and this involvement whet Nippon Kōei's appetite for more overseas projects. Kubota therefore embarked on a world tour in 1953 to win international business for his new company after lobbying Japan's Export-Import Bank to provide loans for future contracts. In securing bank cooperation, Kubota referred to his wartime development experience and argued that large-scale infrastructure projects overseas were the quickest route to promoting Japanese exports (305).
In a short visit to Burma, the Japanese consul-general, an old friend from the electricity section in Japan's wartime communications ministry, arranged a meeting with a Ministry of Industry official. Kubota introduced himself as someone with vast experience in infrastructure building in Asia and expressed interest in contributing to industrial development projects in Burma since there were few opportunities in Japan and because he missed the “freedom” of overseas construction projects (307). Upon learning of Kubota's experience in hydropower development, the official showed him three blueprints proposed by the American consulting firm Knappen, Tippetts, Abbett, and McCarthy, based on their study funded by the US Technical Cooperation Administration. The Burmese government was about to adopt their recommendations when the official asked Kubota's opinion of the proposed hydropower sites. Instead of the three major sites proposed and studied in detail in the American report, Kubota focused his attention on yet another site that was only briefly described as having potential—the Balu Chaung site near Loikaw in Karenni State (today Kayah State), which British engineers discovered in the 1920s (Knappen, Tippetts, Abbett, and McCarthy 1953: 557, 637). The area's geography promised abundant hydropower, and its location toward Burma's center enabled cheaper and more efficient electricity transmission to various parts of Burma, in contrast to the American plan, which recommended building three power projects to fulfill the electricity needs of different regions (565–626). Referring to his experience in developing colonial Korea's electrical grid, he insisted that his plan could form the central artery of Burma's future network, provide power to the main cities of Rangoon and Mandalay, and promote chemical and heavy industries (see Fig. 1).
Intrigued, the official asked for a more detailed proposal, perhaps because the Ministry of Industry favored an emphasis on industrial and power projects since they represented the “high road to economic development” and the key to building a “new Burma.” This contrasted with the recommendations of American consultants, who suggested gradual light industrial development in line with Burma's agricultural and natural resource–based economy rather than a jump into heavy industry (Walinsky 1962: 143, 299). Thus, Kubota invoked the compelling image of rapid industrial development based on Japan's own prewar and wartime experiences as an alternative to models proposed by more developed nations. In attempting to win contracts, not only did Kubota often appeal to a common Asian identity, but he also suggested that Japan's recent experience with questions of rapid industrial growth might better meet the high-growth ambitions of Southeast Asia's newly independent countries than gradualist plans proposed by Western consultants.
After a brief conflict with the British, who lobbied the Burmese government to let them develop the dam site based on their earlier colonial experience, Kubota's company won the contract in 1954, and Kajima Construction Company was hired as the construction subcontractor. As they began to prepare, wartime reparations quickly became an issue between Japan and Burma. Burma's Ministry of Industry asked Kubota how much they could expect to receive from Japan, which was beginning to address the issue to reassure its Asian neighbors. Kubota subsequently served as a go-between for both governments. He utilized his wartime contacts to arrange a short meeting with Japan's prime minister, Yoshida Shigeru, where he urged Yoshida to pay reparations in the form of goods and technology rather than cash as a long-term strategy to gain an economic foothold in Asia (Nagatsuka 1966: 325). In meetings with the finance minister, Kubota explained that he supported such a policy not from any underhanded desire to acquire profits but out of a firm belief that providing reparations was Japan's duty to help Asian countries create modern nation-states and attain economic independence. As a result, Burma and Japan would “co-prosper and co-exist” (327). His efforts succeeded, insofar as Kubota helped arrange a visit by Burma's minister of industry in August 1954, and a peace treaty and reparations agreement was concluded in November that same year.
The treaty agreed to pay $200 million in reparations over a ten-year period “with the services of Japanese people and the products of Japan” beginning in 1956 “to contribute towards the economic rehabilitation and development and the advancement of social welfare in the Union of Burma” (Treaty of Peace 1954). Burma's government asked for nearly $54 million of that money to fund the Balu Chaung project. In addition to money for Japanese goods and services for development projects, grants of $5 million per year were designated for technical assistance; $2 million of this annually was used to fund four joint-venture projects to build industrial plants for manufacturing light vehicles, heavy vehicles, agricultural machinery, and electrical goods. Matsuda Motors, the Hino Corporation, the Kubota Corporation, and National Corporation supervised these respective ventures (Steinberg 1990: 55–56; Usul and Debenham 1993). These projects never became self-sustaining and were continually dependent on Japanese components and parts, which were subsidized by Japanese loans until 1987 (Steinberg 1990: 60). Thus, although the reparations agreement was concluded between two sovereign countries, a neocolonial technical aid system emerged around the Balu Chaung project whereby Japanese companies were rewarded with lucrative contracts and markets with government support. In the next section, after analyzing the political dynamics within the actual construction of Japan's first postwar reparations project—Balu Chaung Power Station Number Two—I examine how Japan's technical aid system evolved in Asia under the US Cold War system.
Japanese Engineers and the Construction of Balu Chaung Power Station Number Two
Kubota planned a long-term project in three stages that corresponded to the construction of three power stations that employed a series of natural drop-offs at Lawpita Falls along the Balu Chaung River. These three stages in turn would meet Burma's planned increase in industrial demand. Water would be diverted from the river through large waterways to the respective drop-off points where the power stations were located. The river was to be dammed near its source at Inle Lake, thereby creating the 207-square-kilometer Mobye reservoir, which would better manage the river's water for diversion to the power stations. Under the supervision of Burma's Electricity Supply Board, Nippon Kōei completed the first stage of Balu Chaung Power Station Number Two in 1960 (see Fig. 2). They pushed the Burmese government to begin work on Mobye reservoir, which would then enable them to complete the entire power station and run it at its full capacity of 168,000 kilowatts; however, budget issues and Ne Win's coup and socialist reforms forced delays (Yoshida 1959: 37). The Burmese government completed the Mobye reservoir in 1971 and the rest of Power Station Number Two in 1974. Power Station Number One was completed in 1992 along with a smaller reservoir for water supply. At the time of this writing, a Chinese company was constructing Power Station Number Three.
Whereas Kubota negotiated with the Burmese political leadership, supervised the first preliminary investigation, and drew up the final plan, it was the mid- to lower-level Japanese engineers who translated his conceptions into reality on the ground via negotiations with various parties such as Burmese and Indian technicians, Electricity Supply Board bureaucrats, village leaders, and workers. These Japanese engineers, who left behind accounts in the form of journal articles, field notebooks, and published memoirs, shared Kubota's faith in Japanese technology as a major contributor to Asian development. However, in these on-site accounts of the investigations and construction, we witness some of the actual, everyday politics of how engineers continuously invoked their technical expertise and experience in their interactions with various parties as a means to assert Japanese superiority. By examining their accounts, particularly Itō's extensive memoirs, we see various continuities from the colonial to the postcolonial era in how engineers once again sought to represent “Japanese technology” as a transcendent force for Asian modernization.
Itō and other engineers often reproduced the standpoint of the “indigenized” colonial master and adventurer in their accounts. Itō expressed pride over the fact that he lived in remote Karenni villages in bamboo huts for months on end without speaking Japanese, slept in tents in areas where the threat of tigers, snakes, and leeches (as well as armed insurgents and bandits) was ever-present, managed foreign labor crews and resolved local disputes, and served as a doctor to people without access to modern medical care.2 At several points, he referred to himself as “nativized me” and even declared himself a “Burmese patriot” in leading the construction of the 220-kilometer Toungoo road through dense jungles and over two-thousand-meter-high mountains (Itō 1963: 155–56, 197). The road and accompanying transmission lines would bring commerce and electricity to hitherto isolated regions with subsistence economies (152, 155). The question of proper leadership boundaries for foreign consultants constantly became an issue for Itō. Usually, a foreign consultant's job was to design and oversee construction, not to directly lead and take part in it. Whereas Western consultants or Burmese engineers would hardly leave their offices, he noted, Japanese engineers would get their hands dirty in taking charge of the construction process, often working overtime and on weekends (132, 154–55). Itō often expressed frustration at Burmese workers and Indian technicians, who worked rather leisurely, took a whole range of religious holidays, and refused to work more than thirty-six-hour weeks and eight-hour days (132–33, 164). During the six-month monsoon season, the work pace slowed even more, and Japanese engineers had to “toss out their Japanese ideals of working night and day, and adjust to the slow pace of Burmese life” (144). While Itō expressed great pride when he increased the speed and efficiency of his work crews through personal example, he concluded that the Burmese still had to overcome their ingrained unwillingness for hard work for national development to succeed (171).
Other engineering accounts similarly glorified Japanese leadership in completing the project amidst difficult conditions. The searing heat, long rainy season, remote location, “exotic” long-necked Kayan women, snakes, leeches, and the constant danger of insurgents were frequently mentioned in these accounts, thereby highlighting what Kubota described as the engineers' “pioneer spirit” (Kubota 1956: 593). Similar to Itō, Monoi Tatsuo, a top Nippon Kōei engineer in Burma who had worked with Kubota at Sup'ung Dam, also blamed a certain “lack of will” among the Burmese as the principal source of the project's numerous delays (Monoi 1960: 47). He expressed annoyance at the Burmese government's constant questioning of Japanese plans and their seeking the opinions of third-country parties regarding Japanese technology—resulting in further delays in securing necessary machinery and parts—instead of trusting Japanese expertise (47). Regarding the construction of Toungoo road, Monoi declared that the Burmese could never have completed it without the “heroic work of our employees” (52).
Nozawa Noboru, an electrical engineer who joined Nippon Kōei in 1953 with dreams of building dams on China's Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, recounted how during the initial road survey he managed to quell a potential mutiny by workers who sympathized with “communist bandit” insurgents. When the team had to cut short the survey and return to base camp because the other team failed to turn up at the designated meeting point, the “pig-tailed, tattooed” workers surrounded and brandished their knives at Nozawa because they were upset that their full wages would not be paid. Apparently, he quickly silenced them with his “threatening demeanor” and ordered them to resume carrying the team's equipment, barking out a promise that they would return at a later date (Nozawa 1994: 21, 27–28). Nozawa also boasted about the ingenuity of Japanese engineers who concocted makeshift parts from local materials and altered the transmission tower designs instead of waiting for delayed deliveries of Japanese machinery and parts (30–31).
At the same time, engineers also emphasized the advanced capabilities of Japanese technology such as the heavy use of mechanization in the construction and the quality of the power station's penstocks, which were the largest the Japanese had ever built and utilized a high-strength, low-alloy steel necessary for the long, steep incline (Monoi 1960: 50; Yoshida 1959: 37–38). Toungoo road's completion itself was a major achievement, Itō proclaimed, since even the British had failed to build a major east to west road over Burma's north-to-south mountain ranges (Itō 1963: 29–30, 148). Thus, in their accounts, engineers reconstructed a colonial narrative of Japanese superiority by similarly invoking the power of Japanese technology, expertise, and leadership to develop “untamed” Asian frontiers and manage undisciplined Asian peoples.
Interestingly, a 1960 film commissioned by Burma's Electricity Supply Board and produced by Iwanami Eiga Seisakujo (Iwanami Film Productions) titled Balu Chaung Project emphasized the role of Burma's Electricity Supply Board engineers in planning and supervising the entire project. Shots of Burmese workers operating bulldozers, scrapers, excavators, cement mixers, and trucks at each stage of the construction process and Burmese technicians conducting test runs of the power station predominated, while shots of Japanese engineers displayed them mostly in an advisory role. Thus, the Burmese leadership also sought to claim the mantle of bringing a “new age” of modernity to forests “untouched by the human axe” and “sleepy hamlets” isolated from human contact (Iwanami Eiga Seisakujo 1960). Technology constituted a powerful discourse invoked by Japanese and Burmese engineers alike in justifying and mobilizing support for their work.
While Japanese engineers insisted that engineering was strictly separate from politics, their constant interaction with Burmese and Karen field assistants, Karenni village elites, Electricity Supply Board bureaucrats, and other intermediaries frequently revealed their engineering work's high political stakes (see Fig. 3). Since the project was located at the epicenter of the ongoing Karen insurgency, securing local assistance was crucial to the project's successful completion. Itō's account not only showed how Japanese engineers were involved in the political work of winning over the residents but also provided glimpses into how local leaders and intermediaries won popular support. A Shan technician from Karenni State named U San Cha, who had served in the Japanese army and later managed a tungsten mine in the area, was Itō's right-hand man. Aside from hiring and mobilizing labor crews, he negotiated with village leaders about wages and argued passionately to residents about the road and dam project's benefits (Itō 1963: 82, 112, 175). Other intermediaries included an Italian Catholic priest who had lived in Karen areas for twenty years; a Karen schoolteacher in a mountain village who later joined the project as an employee; a Karen “boss” named Peter who mediated between Karen workers and residents, the Japanese engineers, and the Burmese government and military; and several cooks, translators, and private guards such as William, a former Karen National Defense Organization fighter, who received a government pension and had strong connections to Karen insurgents (67, 79, 145, 175–76, 181–82). During the initial survey, Itō noted that winning the cooperation of local leaders was just as important as their survey work (80). The promise of more commerce from Toungoo road's construction seemed to be a powerful mobilizing force for the area's residents. In one instance, U San Cha suggested that they meet an old friend from his tungsten mine days, who was the head of thirteen villages. The head gathered the village elders together to meet the survey team, and after some debate and discussion, they requested the team to site the road through the village in the interests of increasing commerce rather than west of it as the engineers planned. The village head then asked the elders to pledge cooperation with the project, which led to easier labor procurement (80–82). During the construction, Itō noted that in one area people came out to watch the bulldozers, and many gladly participated since they could earn money as laborers (114). An increase in commerce and vehicle traffic even before the road was completed suggested that the road won significant local support. The Burmese government's film Balu ChaungProject declared that “isolated people rejoiced at new prospects and willingly cooperated with road construction,” occluding any reference to resistance or issues with insurgents (Iwanami Eiga Seisakujo 1960).
The involvement of local intermediaries often undermined the Japanese engineers' postcolonial identities as technical experts from a more advanced country who were boldly developing new frontiers and bringing prosperity to hitherto isolated regions. In fact, Japanese engineers were often not the ones in control of various situations. For example, Monoi noted that the Japanese survey team became discouraged when their first plan to site the road to Pyinmana was abandoned after they had to be rescued from a “dangerous” encounter with insurgents, and another potential road could not be pursued again due to a strong insurgent presence. Upon hearing from an old man at a bazaar of a small footpath from Loikaw into the mountains, they gathered area elders and pieced together a road route to Toungoo using the footpath trading routes connecting various mountain villages. Before embarking on the survey, they asked for protection from important notables along the route (Itō 1963: 44–45; Monoi 1960: 51). Itō also recounted several instances of his Karen assistants William and Peter responding to questions and favors from the Burmese military or supervising wage payments to Karen workers and smoothing over labor dissent, while at the same time refusing to work directly for the national government (Itō 1963: 175–76, 181–83).
Although he speculated that Karen insurgents were interested in benefiting from the road economically through commerce and jobs or that they were attempting to acquire intelligence about the Burmese government and military or work out various deals with local units, in the end Itō confessed that he was largely clueless about Burma's political situation (Itō 1963: 176, 182–83). “I have lived in these deep mountains for several years, but I still do not understand what is really going on,” he wrote. “Without any relationship to the locals, perhaps I am just an engineer reliant on their goodwill who in the end is making a road just like a horse simply pulls a cart” (181). Throughout the construction, Indian technicians constantly doubted Japanese engineering skills, village heads argued for wage hikes or higher compensation amounts, divisions in the Electricity Supply Board between pro-thermal and pro-hydropower factions delayed procurements, Burmese bulldozer operators disobeyed orders and worked as they pleased, and national election campaigns placed pressure on the Japanese to quicken construction (53, 111, 113, 122, 130, 134). Thus, while Itō and other Japanese engineers represented themselves as bold managers in the colonial vein who could not only transform Burma's environment but also inspire workers, raise productivity, and resolve disputes, in the end it was the engineers themselves who often relied on local knowledge and leadership to complete the project and who were at the mercy of social and political forces beyond their control.
Sakaida Masanori, Nippon Kōei's head geologist, was another engineer who participated in the project's investigation, planning, and construction. During the war, he worked at a dam project on Sumatra's Asahan River. Kubota had surveyed the Asahan site during the war and recruited Sakaida for his expertise since one of his main goals after the war was to lobby the Indonesian government to develop the region. Sakaida later participated in Nippon Kōei's projects in South Vietnam, Ghana, Indonesia, and Laos, and he became a director in 1962 (Harada 2009: 103–4). Similar to the other engineering accounts, his Burma field notebooks from early site investigations in 1954 and 1955 depicted the difficulty of surveying an unfamiliar environment and managing various parties and interests. More distinctively, however, his notes also displayed a strong interest in national and international affairs. The Burmese government consulted him on different mining sites and his notes contained information on the quality of manganese and iron ore, potential deposit volumes, transportation and mining methods, and labor costs (Sakaida 1954E). Moreover, statistics on Burma's rice, oil, rubber, teak, sugar cane, and other natural resources were gleaned from sources such as Burma's Chamber of Commerce and newspapers. Sakaida was particularly interested in rice production, and he noted Burma's yearly harvest and compared it with previous years, prewar production, and the production of other rice-producing nations (Sakaida 1954D, 1954E, 1955B). Since rice was Burma's major export commodity and foreign exchange source, he was most likely interested in how Burma would build the foundations for national development. Yet he also noted Japan's rice yield statistics and at one point mentioned the visit of a Japanese rice-purchasing mission, illustrating Japan's dependence on foreign rice at the time (Sakaida 1954D). He also mentioned the arrival of a Japan Ammonium Sulfate Industry Association mission to pursue a joint fertilizer plant venture as part of the reparations package and the multipurpose development of the Salween River (Sakaida 1954D).
Thus, while Sakaida's notebooks demonstrated a strong commitment to Burmese development and an attentiveness to local conditions—to the point that he questioned whether the American consultant Knappen, Tippetts, Abbett, and McCarthy really had the Burmese people's interests at heart in their development recommendations—Japan's position as a semideveloped nation requiring overseas resources and markets also seemed to be in the back of his mind (Sakaida 1954C). His notes on Japan's antagonistic relationship with the Soviet Union, China's development plans in Tibet, American dam projects in Thailand, and the Asian-African Conference at Bandung in 1955 on nonalignment suggested that he was thinking deeply about Japan's position in the new postcolonial Cold War order (Sakaida 1954D, 1954E, 1955B, 1955C).
In sum, Japanese engineers believed that since their technical expertise contributed to Burma's modernization and development, it was above ideology and politics—in a similar manner that Japanese engineers during the colonial era invoked technology as a path to “East Asian co-prosperity.” However, the postwar engineers' on-the-ground accounts also vividly showed why their assertions about the superiority of Japanese expertise and technology should not be taken at face value. The various accounts illustrated how the engineers' exercise of technical expertise at the project was in fact always made possible by complicated interactions with various parties and interests at every step of the way. Thus, Japanese engineering work in Burma was not simply the inevitable introduction of progress and prosperity through technical aid, but also always a political act of mediating ethnic conflict, managing labor relations, convincing residents and officials of project benefits, and defining the project's overall meaning for Burma's development, Japan's national interests, and the international community, among other things.
Japan's Asian Regionalism and Aid Politics toward Burma
As noted earlier, reestablishing Japan's position in Asia and creating lucrative markets for Japanese products and services were key motivations behind utilizing war reparations to fund large-scale projects like Balu Chaung. David Biggs (2010) has argued that the US government's enrollment of Asian firms (such as Nippon Kōei) and governments of allied nations like Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea into its Cold War development schemes in the Mekong delta marked a major shift from a regime dominated by one colonial or neocolonial power such as Britain, France, or the United States to a “multilateral” form of power rooted in the principle of Asian regionalism (211–18). While US Cold War policy broadly facilitated Japan's reintegration into Asia, it was in fact the Japanese government and business interests that really pushed and expanded this new system of Asian regionalism in which Japan would take on a strong leadership role. For example, from as early as 1951, Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats eagerly planned for Japan's full entry into ECAFE in the interests of participating in the region's economic recovery and development programs, as well as expanding its capital exports through the promotion of technical assistance. This was achieved in 1953 with the support of most member nations, which believed that Japan's industrial power had a vital role in restoring and developing Asian economies. As suggested by Prime Minister Yoshida's receptivity to Kubota's efforts to facilitate a reparations agreement with Burma in 1954 to fund the Balu Chaung project, Yoshida viewed Southeast Asia not only as an important Japanese market but also as a key Cold War battlefield in Asia. His goal was to “contain communism by economic success,” which in turn would lure China away from its alliance with the Soviet Union, and he even lobbied the United States to allow Japan to invest its debt repayments into new funds for Southeast Asian development (Higuchi 2013: 33). In 1955, ECAFE's eleventh session was held in Tokyo, and it became one of the first major regional forums where the Japanese government signaled its intent to become a major contributor to Asian development (Oba 2008). In his address to the representatives, Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichirō invoked Japan's status as a nation undergoing “economic rehabilitation” and pointed to Japan's difficulties of having a large population, limited territory, few natural resources, and an unhealthy reliance on external trade. Thus, he argued that increased economic cooperation and a rise in Asia's standard of living were keys to ensuring “mutual prosperity” (United Nations Economic and Social Council 1955: 17).
Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke paid the first high-level visit to Southeast Asia in launching an Asia-centered diplomacy in 1957 as part of his overall efforts to assert independence from the United States. As head of Manchukuo's department of industry during the war, Kishi was a strong believer in colonial industrialization, and his policies made Kubota's projects such as Sup'ung Dam possible. During his term as prime minister, Kishi concluded reparations agreements with South Vietnam and Indonesia, liberalized the Export-Import Bank's lending regime, encouraged private investment in less developed regions, and unsuccessfully lobbied for an international Southeast Asian Development Fund. Subsequent prime ministers continued Kishi's Asia-centered diplomacy such that by 1965 Japan's trade with Southeast Asia nearly equaled that of the United States, making Japan an important regional player (CIA Directorate of Intelligence 1967: 42, 47).
Kubota was a key figure in expanding and giving concrete shape to the new multilateral technical aid system in Southeast Asia. After successfully facilitating the Burma reparations agreement, he arranged to meet with South Vietnam's public works minister at the Tokyo ECAFE conference in 1955 and began negotiations that eventually led to the construction of Đa Nhim power station with Japanese reparations money and an Export-Import Bank loan (Nagatsuka 1966: 332). He also met Shen Yi, head of ECAFE's Bureau of Flood Control and Water Resources, who admired Kubota's work in Burma, as well as his overall “enthusiasm and love” for Southeast Asia, and Pao-Tai Tan, another ECAFE hydraulic expert who knew of Kubota's work on Sup'ung Dam during the colonial era (347–48). Both Chinese experts were firm believers in multipurpose dam development along the lines of the TVA, and they transferred their unrealized dreams of developing China's Yellow and Yangtze Rivers into ECAFE studies and proposals to build dams in the Mekong River basin instead. Hence, they recruited Kubota, who went on to join an ECAFE and United Nations Technical Assistance Agency study mission of the Lower Mekong basin in 1957 and 1958, respectively, as well as lead a Mekong Committee—the Southeast Asian multilateral agency that coordinated projet planning in the lower Meking River basin—investigation of the Lower Mekong's major tributaries from 1959 to 1960 with Japanese government funding.
At the 1955 Tokyo ECAFE meeting, the Laos representatives also invited Kubota to advise on national development plans, which culminated in Nippon Kōei's construction of the Nam Ngum Dam in 1968 as part of the multilateral Mekong River Development Project through the establishment of an international fund largely from Japanese government grants (Nagatsuka 1966: 354–57). During the 1960s and 1970s, Nippon Kōei also gained an almost “exclusive hold” on Indonesia's major infrastructure construction such as dam construction in the Brantas River basin in Java (Rix 2010: 143). Thus, while the United States presented itself as the grand overseer of the new shift toward Southeast Asian regionalism and Asian cooperation in mutual development—for example, through its active role in the establishment of the Mekong Committee—it was in fact Japanese government officials and business leaders like Kubota who took much of the initiative in expanding and fleshing out this system on the ground in line with Japanese national interests.
Japan's diplomatic relationship with Burma followed the above trajectory toward establishing Japanese leadership within an Asian regionalist framework. An additional incentive of Japan's early technical aid policy and support for Southeast Asian regionalism was acquiring access to its rich natural resources. Japan's postwar government placed high priority on securing energy and food security, and Burma's history as a major rice and oil exporter fit well with Japanese policy and planning goals (Steinberg 1990: 58). During the Allied occupation and immediately afterward, Japan made several emergency purchases of rice from Burma to avoid domestic famine and stabilize supplies. In these early efforts to reestablish relations with Burma, ex-members of the Minami Kikan—a wartime military espionage unit that provided arms to and trained Burmese nationalists such as Aung San, Ne Win, and Bo Let Ya, several of whom became independent Burma's leaders—were used as go-betweens to secure the sales at below market prices (Nemoto 2007: 99).
Emphasizing this history of aiding the Burmese independence struggle against the British, the Japanese government continually referred to the “historically friendly relationship” between Japan and Burma, thereby occluding the history of Japan's wartime scorched earth campaigns and the Burmese anti-Japanese struggle (101–2). However, Burma's military leaders reciprocated with their own invocation of the “special relationship” between the countries. For example, Ne Win, Burma's military commander who formed a caretaker government in 1958 and took over power in 1962 after a coup, was particularly close to Japan and affirmed the narrative of Japan's role in establishing the Burmese Independence Army, which became the nucleus of Burma's army. Ne Win even awarded former Minami Kikan members with the Order of Aung San in 1980, and Japanese ambassadors have historically enjoyed better access to Burma's military regime than others (102–3).
In a striking resurrection of wartime Japanese pan-Asianist discourse, Aung Gyi, heir apparent to Ne Win, stated during a 1963 mission to Tokyo to renegotiate the reparations agreement that the Burmese “have come here as a younger brother would to an older brother to consult [about] a certain family problem” (Steinberg 1990: 61). Thus, a neocolonial discourse linking Japan to Burma's wartime struggle against colonialism and efforts at decolonization took shape and constituted an important ideological justification for Japan's efforts to gain access to Burma's markets and resources, as well as efforts by Burma's generals to strengthen and maintain themselves through access to Japanese aid money.
With the 1963 renegotiation of Japanese reparations, which provided another $131.5 million in aid, the reparations technical aid system to Burma continued until 1975. Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to Burma began in 1968, when aid took the form of yen loans and grants, and continued to fund the development of socioeconomic infrastructure (Nemoto 2007: 100). From the 1950s until the 1990s, Japan was Burma's largest annual aid provider, providing half of its foreign economic aid assistance before 1988 (Seekins 1992: 246; Steinberg 1990: 51). Undoubtedly, Japanese aid was crucial in enabling Burma's military junta to survive and prosper, especially during the 1960s when Burma's economy faced near collapse as a result of Ne Win's socialist nationalization programs (Steinberg 1990: 63).
As Burma pursued a strict stance of nonalignment during the Cold War, Japan remained an attractive source of support to Burma's leaders due to its peace constitution and demilitarization policy. Japanese aid money also largely went to big-ticket industrialization projects such as the Balu Chaung project and the manufacturing joint ventures, which conformed to Burma's policies of socialist modernization (Steinberg 1990: 58, 78–79). In selling his “comprehensive development” approach to rapid industrialization and pushing for reparations to fund such large-scale projects, Kubota allied himself with a larger “Burma lobby” in Japan, which included top Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leaders such as Kishi and Abe Shintarō (59). The Japan-Burma Friendship Association, created in 1970 by former officers who served in Burma and whose members included the Diet member Yamaguchi Yoshiko (known earlier as Ri Kō Ran, who starred as a Chinese heroine in Japanese wartime propaganda films) and LDP leader Watanabe Michio, as well as business groups such as the Japan-Burma Association, ensured that Japanese aid money flowed to Burma. Recently, the Japanese government has maintained a position of “economic development first, democracy second” toward Burma and has therefore periodically restarted aid to Burma earlier than other nations in defiance of international sanctions imposed after the Burmese military regime's suppression of prodemocracy protests in 1988 (Nemoto 2007; Seekins 1992).
In sum, the Japanese government, supported by a powerful domestic Burma lobby, strengthened and expanded the technical aid system initiated by Kubota at the Balu Chaung project, thereby asserting Japan's dominant position in Burma. Japan's Burma aid created a favorable business climate for Japanese companies, secured access to essential natural resources, strengthened ties to potentially the richest nation in Southeast Asia, helped stabilize the country under a military regime, and established Japan as a major player in international and regional development circles (Seekins 1992: 256; Steinberg 1990: 84).
Japanese Aid under the American Cold War System
The postcolonial technical aid relationship between Burma and Japan was not simply bilateral. The Cold War and the competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for exclusive access to the world's natural resources, markets, and industrial infrastructure structured that relationship from the beginning. After World War II, the United States promoted visions of an internationally integrated free-market world order whereby each country would have unlimited access to each other's raw materials and markets, and capital, goods, and people would move freely across borders. For Southeast Asia's decolonizing and newly independent countries, this meant integrating their markets and resource-rich economies with the West's industrial “core.” Japan was integrated into this capitalist core during the Allied occupation between 1945 and 1952 when its political structure was democratized, its industrial economy restored, and an American military presence was guaranteed through the peace and security treaties of 1951. This political and economic system was expanded and strengthened through US interventions in China's civil war and later Taiwan in support of the Kuomintang, the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and the creation of a network of military bases and political treaties across Asia to “contain” communism. Billions of dollars in foreign aid accompanied American military efforts in Asia, making it an integral part of the Cold War (Klein 2003: 25–26).
Christina Klein (2003) has argued that a “global imaginary of integration” replaced a “global imaginary of containment” in US Cold War ideology during the 1950s (23). Instead of emphasizing conflict and suppression, US policy makers articulated an imaginary of an interdependent world community where democracy and open markets would overcome national differences by spreading prosperity, stability, and freedom. Ultimately, the United States would also benefit from free trade as the flow of American investment and aid would return in the form of raw materials, contracts, and goods (41–49). Technical aid played a major role in fostering this global imaginary of integration. In 1949, US President Harry Truman announced the Point Four Program, which promised American capital and technical assistance to the developing world in order to promote economic growth, relieve poverty, and combat communism's lure. The Technical Cooperation Administration was established in 1950, and Point Four agreements were concluded with developing nations throughout the world. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower incorporated Point Four into a new Foreign Operations Administration, which ultimately became the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1961 (McVety 2006: 12).
In contrast to foreign aid programs associated with strong US allies in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, South Vietnam, and the Philippines, US aid to Burma remained meager. After independence in 1948, Burma welcomed aid from the US government and private foundations such as the Ford and Asia Foundations. The United States concluded a Point Four agreement with Burma in 1950; however, Prime Minister U Nu suspended US aid in 1953 out of suspicion that assistance was flowing to Kuomintang rebel groups in Burma. Burma also adopted a neutralist stance during the Cold War and was therefore sensitive to appearances of compromising national independence by receiving significant aid from either side. After the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev visited Burma in 1956 promising development aid and credits, President Eisenhower restarted aid to Burma in 1957 by assisting in the building of a Rangoon-Mandalay highway and a liberal arts college in Rangoon and providing training and equipment to Burma's police (US Congress 1963b: 364–65). Through 1963, American aid totaled $108 million, most of which went to special economic development projects (US Congress 1963c: 268; US Department of State 1961: back cover). According to a USAID official, maintaining aid to neutralist regimes like Burma that were not “pro-Western” was of importance to the United States since it would help Burma maintain its independence against its neighbor, China, and by extension, protect neighboring US allies in the region such as Pakistan and Thailand (US Congress 1963b: 351). After Ne Win gained power in 1962 and began to socialize all areas of Burmese society and pursue a more isolationist foreign policy, US aid to Burma ceased, while Japanese aid continued.
Japan also received technical aid and loans from the United States and World Bank for reconstruction and development long after the American occupation ended in 1952. Thus, Japan was in a unique position of being not only a receiver but also a donor of foreign aid. Whereas Burma received only $108 million in US aid between 1945 and 1963, Japan received a little over $3.8 billion during that same period, which confirmed its importance in the US Cold War system in Asia (US Congress 1963c: 268). Since Japan lost its empire in 1945 and the China market in 1949, the United States encouraged Japanese trade and investment in Southeast Asia to ensure access to new markets and natural resources that would enable Japan to rebuild (Schaller 1985). As Japan concluded several wartime reparations agreements with Southeast Asian nations during the 1950s, the United States urged Japan to take an active leadership role in development aid to the region. In a 1961 visit to Burma, Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato indicated that Burma was one of the countries in Southeast Asia “they were going to take under their wing,” as New York congressman Robert Barry stated during House of Representatives hearings on the 1963 Foreign Assistance Act, “and do for Burma as we have done for other east and southeast Asian countries” (US Congress 1963a: 775). Seymour Janow, assistant administrator for the Far East at USAID, confirmed that Japan viewed Burma as a “special opportunity for assistance” and agreed with Barry's hope that Japan would show other neutralist countries like Indonesia “a little bit of the free way of life and the free enterprise system as it developed in Japan” (775–76).
At congressional hearings over the 1962 Foreign Assistance Act, Janow promoted Japan as a major success story of US foreign aid policy in Asia. Japan had become a regional export power, its living standards had significantly improved, and US aid was being paid back. Japan was even becoming a “major contributor of capital and technical skills to its Asian neighbors,” and its reparations aid agreements with Southeast Asian countries totaled $1.2 billion (US Congress 1962: 671–72). While Janow credited Japan's own efforts at achieving success “within a democratic framework and private enterprise system,” he insisted that, “our aid, our trading policies, our foreign policy and our military strength and its deployment in Asia made it possible” (672). He was also convinced that some of this Japanese success could be replicated elsewhere in Asia “with the right mixture of foreign assistance, local energy and organization” (672). Thus, while the Japanese government sought to carve out its own development policy based on an Asian regionalism tied firmly to Japan, Japan was also enabled by and in turn facilitated American Cold War attempts to integrate Asian nations into its global free-market capitalist system.
The Balu Chaung project's story was therefore more than about Kubota Yutaka, Nippon Kōei, and the Japanese government; it also involved the larger postcolonial security system in Asia envisioned by the United States. For example, as the Balu Chaung power station was being constructed in the 1950s, the Japanese government pursued a flurry of TVA-inspired comprehensive development projects, which combined hydropower, irrigation, flood control, and transportation improvement in various rural parts of Japan. As David Ekbladh (2002) has shown, the TVA philosophy of multipurpose development and grassroots participation was a major part of President Truman's Point Four program to alleviate poverty in the developing world. Sakuma Dam, Japan's largest and the world's tenth largest dam, was one of these projects, and it was completed in 1956 with a loan from the Bank of America and the expertise of Atkinson Engineering Corporation. The dam's builders were Kubota's former colleagues at Hazama-gumi, a construction firm that had helped him build dams in colonial Korea, and it was here that Japanese engineers improved their skills at dam construction and project planning by learning from American experts. Burmese technicians also trained there as part of a technical aid agreement between Burma and Japan (Itō 1963: 191). Thus, at Sakuma and Balu Chaung Dams, a new postcolonial hierarchy of expertise and transnational flows of knowledge emerged. While Japanese development consultants like Kubota promoted both dams internationally as prime examples of Japanese technology, the story was clearly more complicated with the simultaneous involvement of large amounts of American capital and expertise that flowed into Japan and other Asian nations as part of US Cold War strategy.
While US policy makers subsumed Japan's efforts in Southeast Asia into their own grand schemes for the region, divergences emerged in development policy and approaches. A 1967 CIA report on “Japan's Economic Role in the Development of Free Asia” largely endorsed Japan's aim of contributing 1 percent of its national income in foreign aid, singling out Kubota's projects in Burma and South Vietnam as prominent examples (CIA Directorate of Intelligence 1967: 2). Whereas Japanese bureaucrats and experts put forth their “grounded approach” to development, the CIA report viewed Japan's development efforts as consisting of various individual efforts in different countries that lacked a comprehensive vision. Japan did not have a central aid coordination agency like USAID, and bureaucratic divisions produced competing projects and prevented the emergence of a coherent development philosophy. Finally, the report concluded that Japanese programs were narrowly tied to promoting Japan's commercial exports of goods and services and that, through increased involvement in multilateral initiatives, Japanese policy makers were beginning to realize that raising Asian income levels through “sustained economic development” was necessary for the continued economic prosperity of Japan and the rest of “free Asia” (60–62). Thus, in American eyes, Japan's development initiatives always appeared deficient in comparison to the US Cold War blueprint for global development. Whereas Japanese bureaucrats and experts viewed their projects as hands-on and “grounded” compared with Western schemes, American policy makers instead saw them as shortsighted narrow, and disjointed.
Japanese Development and Burma's Military Regime
In his book on the history of Japanese ODA, Sumi Kazuo (1989) not only argued that the Balu Chaung project initiated a pattern whereby development aid was tied to contracts for Japanese companies but also helped establish a norm whereby the Japanese government largely ignored issues of human rights and the environment (133). English language human rights reports by Karenni organizations and memoirs by Karenni individuals provide detailed evidence of increased militarization, minority displacement and “Burmanization” policies, forced labor, state violence, impunity, rape, loss of livelihoods, and environmental destruction accompanying the Balu Chaung project, especially from the late 1960s when the Mobye reservoir was constructed and Burma's military regime began a concerted effort to develop its hydropower infrastructure (Karenni Development Research Group 2006; Khoo Thwe 2002; Mya 1987). Japanese civil society groups have also raised these issues with the Japanese government, and a Japan International Cooperation Agency report has expressed concern over the increased militarization of Burma's minority areas where many dam projects are located (Akimoto 2012). While some have argued that issues such as ethnic relations constituted “internal politics” and were therefore outside the realm of judgment for Nippon Kōei engineers, that they could not have foreseen the Burmese military's subsequent actions, or that the Balu Chaung project in the end overrode such concerns by contributing greatly to national development, such claims uncritically conform to the Japanese government's ideology that technical aid was neutral and ultimately above politics (Harada 2009: 111–12).
No Japanese accounts or reports of the latter stages of Balu Chaung's construction exist, suggesting that Ne Win's military regime constructed Mobye reservoir and the other power stations either largely by themselves or with the help of United Nations experts—even though Nippon Kōei designed and was contracted to supervise the entire project (Scopes 1971: 2, 5). Nippon Kōei had an office in Burma, and sources indicate that its engineers were training technicians and advising on Balu Chaung Power Station Number Two's operation until at least 1964 (Nozawa 1994: 32). Thus, on the surface, it seems that Nippon Kōei should largely be absolved of responsibility for the Burmese regime's subsequent actions. Yet as shown above, Japanese engineers were quite aware of their engineering work's political stakes since it also involved negotiating with residents, workers, insurgent representatives, local leaders, and bureaucrats for its successful completion. For example, in the construction's early stages, Itō made a brief prophecy about Toungoo road's future effects and the project as a whole. While discussing his efforts at promoting the road's commercial benefits in a particularly hostile part of Karenni State, he privately admitted that it could lead to the area's militarization, an economic invasion by ethnic Burmans, and ultimately to their assimilation (Itō 1963: 93). Perhaps his cooperation with several Karen intermediaries who supported and facilitated the project enabled him to focus largely on the benefits to the region.
Itō was one of the people who initially decided on a more direct and geographically less difficult road and transmission line route through uncontrolled insurgent territory to Pyinmana. “Rather than choose a geographically impossible landscape, we decided that it would be more rational to ask the Burmese army to mop up the insurgents,” he wrote (39). Ultimately, heavy insurgent activity prevented them from completing the survey of the Pyinmana road, yet this did not change Itō's belief that insurgents were merely “irrational” obstacles to development that needed to be dealt with militarily. In fact, Toungoo road's construction faced similar troubles with insurgents, and thus he witnessed the precursors of the Burmese military's Four Cuts Campaign. Similar to British tactics in defeating Malaya's communist insurgency and the strategic hamlet program employed by the United States in Vietnam, its purpose was to cut the four main links—food, funds, intelligence, and recruits—between insurgents, their families, and local residents. Burma was divided into a “vast chessboard” under the different regional commands and painted in three colors: black for insurgent-controlled areas, brown for disputed areas, and white for cleared areas. Theoretically, the campaign was designed “to liquidate the insurgents, to organize the people and to study the party's Programme and Policy” (Smith 1999: 259). However, in reality black and brown areas were cordoned off, people were ordered to move to new “strategic villages” under military control, and those remaining either were shot or had their food, crops, and paddies confiscated (259; Karenni Development Research Group 2006: 44–45). Itō described how the Burmese military imposed road blockades and a strict permit system for food and fuel in their area during the agricultural off-season when insurgents were likely low on food (Itō 1963: 180). Thus, despite repeated representations of their engineering work as being above politics, Nippon Kōei engineers clearly understood that their project's success ultimately rested on the Burmese government's exercise of political and military force against uncooperative residents. This political awareness also extended to matters of land purchasing and compensation, where Itō and others noted that, in contrast to Japan, these did not pose significant problems since Burma had a socialist regime, which therefore led to the project's relatively smooth completion (Itō 1963: 122; Monoi 1960: 52).
Kubota himself was no stranger to conducting projects in conflict zones with heavy military presence or in nations with authoritarian regimes. For example, his crowning achievement of Japan's colonial era—Sup'ung Dam—was built in areas with high Chinese and Korean insurgent presence, necessitating a long military campaign to eliminate them. Although he insisted that he dealt fairly and sincerely with the area's affected residents, the dam's construction still required a heavy deployment of colonial state, police, and military power in transferring residents and mobilizing labor (Kubota and Yamaguchi 1967: 31; Moore 2013b). In his biographies, Kubota represented his career as one continuous trajectory of bringing development and prosperity to undeveloped frontiers without any sense of disjuncture between the colonial and postwar eras, and he proudly referred to his colonial achievements in meetings with Asian leaders. His willingness to conduct studies and projects in high-conflict areas such as Burma, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in fact suggests a continuity with his earlier career of doing investigations and construction projects for the Japanese military in wartime occupied areas. Rather than constituting some cover-up on his part, however, this lack of critical reflection over the link between technical projects and state violence more likely reflected Kubota's firm belief in the narrative of progress—that technology ultimately produced more benefits than costs in bringing about modernization and prosperity to poorer regions. Yet as Japanese civil society groups have consistently pointed out in their critique of Japan's ODA programs, this ideology of technical aid's neutrality occluded important questions of how aid might strengthen authoritarian regimes and lead to the expansion of state and military power at the expense of minorities and affected residents—questions that were at times evident in Japanese engineering accounts themselves. Thus, another crucial pillar of Japan's postcolonial technical aid system first established in Burma was its complicit relationship to authoritarian regimes throughout Southeast Asia in exchange for access to markets and resources under the banner of aid neutrality.
Conclusion: Reconstituting Colonial Networks
In conclusion, a postcolonial or even neocolonial technical aid system and network was initiated with Nippon Kōei's Balu Chaung hydropower project in the 1950s. Former Japanese colonial engineers like Kubota yearned to develop “virgin frontiers” as they once did in Korea and Manchukuo after Japan returned to its precolonial borders. They utilized their former wartime and colonial contacts in government, business, and finance to realize those ambitions. Kubota's development consultancy also sold “comprehensive development” plans based on earlier blueprints that engineers had designed and implemented during the colonial era to newly independent Asian governments, who in turn were attracted by promises of rapid industrialization. Kubota joined business lobbyists and political leaders to push the Japanese government to fund these projects through reparations in order to increase exports and win Asian markets. Japanese engineers, businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats resurrected the colonial discourse of Japanese leadership in bringing about Asian coprosperity and cooperation through technical aid and development, which manifested in Japan's efforts to encourage a multilateral Asian regionalism oriented more toward itself than the West. At specific project sites, engineers and development consultants re-created former subject positions as kind colonial managers who understood native populations and environments in their everyday relations. Finally, Kubota, Nippon Kōei, and the Japanese development community helped create a system whereby the Japanese government funded large-scale development projects that often strengthened state and military power at the expense of affected residents. All of this was done against the backdrop of US Cold War policy in Asia, which supported Japanese reconstruction and economic growth and actively encouraged Japan's entry into Southeast Asia to secure the resources and markets it had lost after the fall of its empire.
These postcolonial power relationships that resurrected and reformulated earlier Japanese colonial networks, visions, expertise, and policies in Asia took concrete form in the 1950s through the constitution of yet another transnational, hierarchical network of development during the Cold War. American diplomats and development bureaucrats discussed and coordinated foreign aid policy in Southeast Asia with their Japanese counterparts. American engineers funded by US foreign aid money shared knowledge and expertise with experienced colleagues from Japanese power and construction companies at large-scale comprehensive development sites throughout Japan, which also served as sites to train technicians and engineers from developing nations in Asia. Japanese engineers and businessmen lobbied LDP leaders, diplomats, and bureaucrats to take a more active role in Asia, and the latter then engineered Japan's return to international development circles and laid the diplomatic groundwork for Japanese technical aid and capital to reenter Southeast Asia through reparations agreements with formerly occupied nations such as Burma under the banner of “Asian co-prosperity.” Japanese engineers and businessmen negotiated with Burmese government engineers and technocrats, as well as local leaders, technicians, and workers, in translating their grand conceptions into an environment and sociopolitical context that often proved resistant. Burmese government leaders, politicians, and military officers incorporated Japanese-inspired visions of development into their own programs for industrialization and implemented them via various intermediaries and the exercise of state and military power in unassimilated ethnic minority regions with strong insurgency movements. In sum, early postwar Japanese development projects such as Balu Chaung did not simply represent a new Japan that had completely renounced its imperialist past in favor of an international role dedicated to global peace and development. Japanese-sponsored development projects went hand in hand with the creation of new networks of power rooted in the colonial era that brought together American Cold War designs to integrate peripheral Asian economies with its industrialized core, Japanese ambitions to reestablish itself as an economic power in Asia, and the Burmese military regime's efforts at national development, integration, and entrenchment of its own interests.
The Balu Chaung project also sheds light on Japan's unique position as a semideveloped nation or, more specifically, as an emerging donor. Japan was not merely a passive node in the US Cold War system but pursued an active agenda to promote its own development paradigms and economic interests in Asia after wartime devastation and the loss of its empire. Development aid was linked to purchases of Japanese goods and services and was motivated by a strong need for Asian markets and resources in order to help Japan's developing economy. Kubota and other business and government leaders proclaimed their status as “fellow Asians” in selling their development visions to Southeast Asian nations and regional organizations like ECAFE. They argued that Japan was more sensitive to the needs of decolonizing nations than Western nations based on their own experiences of reconstruction and rapid industrialization within a Western-dominated global economic order. Engineers distinguished their projects as more comprehensive, efficient, and “grounded” than wasteful projects recommended by the more established Western development consultants and their respective governments. Japanese development consultants even operated in active conflict zones in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam, where Western companies often would not go, by waving the banner of Japan's path of nonmilitarization and peaceful economic growth. In these ways, Japan actively pushed and expanded the shift in Southeast Asia from a colonial order where respective areas were overtly dominated by one Western power to a postcolonial developmental power regime centered on asserting Japanese economic influence within a broader discourse of Asian regionalism and cooperation—once again reviving the specters of pan-Asianist discourse from its own colonial era.
Although Burma changed its name to Myanmar in 1989, I maintain the use of Burma for the sake of simplicity. Burman refers to native Burmese speakers and those who identify culturally with that ethnic group. Burmese refers to any citizen of Burma.
Karenni refers to the various peoples of Karenni State, which include the Gekho, Geba, Karen, Kayan (Padaung), Kayaw, Bray, Manumanaw, Shan, Yinbaw, and Yintalai (Karenni Development Research Group 2006: 9).