By Leong Sze Hian
I refer to the articles “Singapore’s arms sales to Myanmar not substantial : No deals in recent years ; weapons sold not suited to counter civilian unrest ; economic links limited, says George Yeo” (ST, Oct 23) and “MPs fire questions on Myanmar issue” (Today, Oct 23).
The first article reported on the answers given by Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo thus:
“While Singapore’s established policy has not been to divulge details of defence sales, he said that over the years, defence sales to Myanmar had not been substantial.
These had always “been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest”, he said. “There have not been any defence sales to Myanmar in recent years and, going forward, we will continue to behave in a responsible manner”. There is no arms embargo against Myanmar, but Mr Yeo said Singapore would comply should there be one sanctioned by the United Nations”.
I think the answer may need to be a bit more substantive. Is the cumulative defence sales to Myanmar for the period since the Junta came to power, a few hundred thousand dollars, a few million, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions ? What is the total sum involved ?
Since the amount is not substantial, I see no reason why the figure should not be disclosed.
Also, does it mean that since the Junta came to power decades ago, no ammunitions, small arms, bombs, tear gas, rifles, larger caliber weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, etc, has ever been sold to Myanmar ?
Although Singapore is said to have had no deals with Myanmar in “recent years”, one would naturally have to ask: What is meant by “recent years”? 2 years? 3 years? 5 years? 10 years?
While “Singapore’s established policy has not been to divulge details of defence sales”, surely an exception can be made, after all that has happened in Myanmar?
The Foreign Affairs minister also said that going forward, Singapore would “behave in a responsible manner” and would comply with any United Nations arms embargo, if there should be one. Does this mean that Singapore, in spite of global condemnation of the Myanmese regime, will continue to sell “items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest”?
And how does the Singapore government “carefully” limit the sales of these “items which are not suitable for countering civilian unrest”?
Turning to economic links and trade with Myanmar, the minister said:
“Economic links with Myanmar were also limited. Trade last year amounted to $ 1 billion, or 0.1 per cent of Singapore’s total trade. Myanmar was 50th among trading partners, and cumulative total direct investments by Singapore firms at the end of 2005 was just $ 742 million.”
Whilst trade with Myanmar may be small because of Singapore’s large total volume of trade, I understand that we are Myanmar’s third largest trading partner, after China and Thailand. We may also need put this into context, in that China and Thailand share borders with Myanmar.
The minister also said that the “cumulative total direct investments by Singapore firms at the end of 2005 was just $742 million.” Was this for the year 2005 only, or is the sum for all cumulative investments since the Junta came to power?
In a channelnewsasia report, some 50 activists demonstrated outside the Singapore embassy in Malaysia calling for Singapore “to review its relations with Myanmar.” In this connection, a report by Asian Economics News (May 2001) reported that the Singapore government had signed a “bilateral investment guarantee agreement” with Myanmar.
4 days ago, the United States blacklisted “3 companies with strong links to Singapore” under its new sanctions against Myanmar. (link)
How does this affect the Singapore government’s “bilateral investment guarantee agreement” which it signed in 2001, as mentioned above?
On another note, I refer to the articles “Police request on T-shirts ‘probably an overreaction’” (ST, Oct 23) and “Prof Ho explains T-shirt incidents” (Today, Oct 23).
The former article states that:
“Mr Siew then asked what powers the officers had to ask the duo to go to the police station for an interview. Pro Ho said it was a request and the duo could refuse it”.
Did the officers inform the duo that it was only a request, and that they could refuse it?
If not, why not?
Since Prof Ho also said it was “probably an overreaction” by the police, will there be assurances that this will not happen again? Will steps be taken to ensure that officers do not request people to go to police stations for interviews, unless they are also informed at the same time that they can choose not to go?
By the way, was there any answer to NMP Siew Kum Hong’s question, “What is the total value of remittances from Myanmar into Singapore over the past 5 years ?”, or NCMP Sylvia Lim’s question asking “the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether and to what extent there are arrangements in place for military cooperation between Singapore and Myanmar”?
Read also: Transcript of reply by Minister George Yeo to Questions in Parliament on 22 October 2007 on Beyondsg.
And: All Burma Democratic Force of Malaysia's Media release: A Memorandum to the Government of Singapore. (link)