UPDATE (28 Sept): Jie Kai has informed TOC that Minister George Yeo has read the following Open Letter. TOC also understands that ASEAN ministers are in “intense discussions” about the situation in Burma.
Dear Mr Yeo,
The situation in Myanmar has taken a turn for the worse. As I write, news reports from the BBC and other respected sources report that several protestors, including monks, have been killed. Many others have been injured.
In the light of these horrifying facts, I believe it is time for the government to take stronger diplomatic action against Myanmar.
There is nothing redeeming about the rule of Myanmar by its military rulers. It has made no meaningful progress towards constitutional rule based on democracy and the rule of law. It cannot even claim to be making socio-economic progress for the country. The facts about the misrule of Myanmar by the military junta are sobering.
This is a place where, as the Financial Times puts it, its military leaders place "greater faith in astrologers than in economists and market forces." As a consequence, (according to the UN), about a third of Burma's people live below the poverty line and 10 per cent of the population is unable to secure sufficient daily food, and child malnutrition is high.
So what should Singapore do about this?
Obviously, our freedom of action is limited. We are a small country, and what we say will have much less political impact than bigger countries like China or India. General economic sanctions are going to hurt Singaporean interests- many Singaporean businessmen have substantial investments in Myanmar.
Furthermore, general economic sanctions will probably do more harm than good to the people in Myanmar- for example, by creating more unemployment- and many dissidents no longer support such action. In any event I understand that generally speaking, it is not in Singapore's interest to provoke any country, especially those far bigger and more populous than ourselves.
Nevertheless, I think there are ways Singapore can show its displeasure at the actions of this awful regime. For one thing, we should work together with the rest of ASEAN to send a strong message that the military regime's actions are intolerable. If the rest of ASEAN agrees to suspend Myanmar's membership in ASEAN, or at least pointedly not invite her to ASEAN's 40th anniversary celebrations, Singapore should strongly support this.
In addition to action in concert with ASEAN, we should also seriously consider imposing sanctions against leading members of the military regime and their families, restricting their freedom of travel to Singapore on anything other than government-to-government business.
It is an open secret that leading members of the regime frequently travel to Singapore for pleasure and for medical treatment.
This should no longer be tolerated.
Such action may mean the loss of some business for some retailers, private hospitals, and hotels. But what is good for business is not necessarily good for the country. For example, we do not tolerate terrorists who use Singapore as a base to plan their activities in third countries. The Internal Security Department detains such people. And I think that such action will be in the country's interest.
Singapore will be much better respected as a country with principles; other countries will be less inclined to perceive us as a selfish and calculating people.
Thank you for the time you have taken to read this letter.
Koh Jie Kai
Law student, Corpus Christi College Oxford.