Japan has referred to Myanmar's military-appointed top diplomat as "foreign minister," despite a backlash on social media for doing so, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.

The ministry attaches importance to maintaining ties given Japan's connections to Myanmar's military government, but the Japanese move is largely interpreted by Myanmar citizens as endorsing military rule following last month's coup.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Monday night, the Japanese Embassy in Yangon said that at a meeting in the capital Naypyitaw earlier in the day, Ambassador Ichiro Maruyama conveyed Japan's position on Myanmar's situation to "Foreign Minister U Wanna Maung Lwin."

Screenshot shows a Facebook post by the Japanese Embassy in Yangon and negative comments. (Kyodo)

The statement, written in Burmese, English and Japanese, said the envoy urged a halt to violence against civilians and an immediate release of those detained, including ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The statement has drawn over 7,000 comments on Facebook. "Wunna Maung Lwin isn't our foreign minister," one user commented. "No one recognizes him" as foreign minister, commented another. Others pleaded not to use the title to refer to him.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi called Wunna Maung Lwin "Myanmar's new foreign minister" before saying Maruyama had used the term as well.

Since the coup, Japan has been increasing pressure on Myanmar's military government.

"It's not a question of whether we recognize it or not," the ministry official said of the legitimacy of the military government, adding that if Japan recognizes it, the country "would not make strong calls" for the release of detained leaders, such as Suu Kyi.

Japan is referring to Wunna Maung Lwin as foreign minister "to make sure we can get our message across (to the military government) and see our demands realized," the official added.

At an informal foreign ministers meeting of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations on March 2, Indonesia and Singapore distanced themselves from Myanmar's military government by refraining from referring to Wunna Maung Lwin as "foreign minister," according to an ASEAN diplomatic source.

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