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Chee Soon Juan’s ‘exploitation’ of the Burma situation?

This is a letter sent to TOC. The writer wishes to remain anonymous.

Recently, a few people have complained that Chee Soon Juan was exploiting the Burmese situation to make a political point. Here's one typical interpretation of the petition he held recently outside the Burmese embassy. Here's another, a letter from a Burmese national to the ST.

The first thing to note is that the accusers have absolutely zero evidence that Chee has no genuine concern for the Burmese people. That he is doing this for the sole purpose of bringing attention to his party and his cause. So this cannot be a valid criticism of Chee's actions.

Let us then consider a slightly more substantive criticism, that articulated by M. M. Aung in his letter to the ST. He writes:

“I am upset that Dr Chee Soon Juan, an opposition politician of the Singapore Democratic Party, exploited the situation in Myanmar by collecting signatures for a petition from innocent people who did not know that the petition was also directed at the Singapore Government.”

It seems to me that if people signed the petition without asking to whom it was directed, that they have only themselves to blame and not Chee. If you buy a product from me without asking what it is, am I to blame? I might, if I had attempted to deceive you into thinking it was something that it was not. But Chee did not. There were no explicit notices or announcements that this was a petition against the Burmese government and nothing else. Anyone could have asked Chee about the targets of the petition, and there is no evidence that he gave anyone a deceptive answer if they asked.

So what other objections do these critics have to Chee's actions?

They always mention that the SDP makes political gains from organising such events. But clearly, making political gains in itself cannot immoral, otherwise all politics would be immoral. So there must be some other reason for their thinking that Chee is doing something immoral.

Is it because he is making political gains through showing his support for a foreign cause? That can only be so if you also think that all politicians should not take public stances on foreign causes. Only isolationists would make that extreme assertion, and I doubt that all of Chee's critics are such hard-core isolationists.

It's also often been mentioned that it's 'sickening' that Chee is using the fact that the Burmese are 'suffering' to make a political point. But making a political point based on other people's suffering can't be intrinsically immoral either, unless you believe politicians should be oblivious to other people's suffering. Since much of politics legitimately concerns reducing human suffering, I think we can safely say that that would also be a rather far-fetched assertion.

We can only conclude that it is still unclear what basis we have to condemn Chee's actions as immoral.

Read also: Straits Times won't publish Dr Chee's reply to M M Aung (SDP website