Singapore’s stance on the ongoing political situation in Myanmar was “highly insensitive” to the people of Myanmar, as it called for both sides to refrain from escalating violence but did not condemn the military takeover there, said Singaporean human rights lawyer M Ravi.
It was earlier reported that a state of emergency had been declared in Myanmar after de facto leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, along with President Win Myint and other senior politicians, were detained by the military on 1 Feb.
The military coup stemmed from alleged fraud in the election held in November last year, which was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
Thousands of people have rallied to protest against the military coup and called for Suu Kyi’s release.
The junta takeover sparked international condemnation, with US President Joe Biden leading calls for the generals to relinquish power and release those arrested in the post-coup crackdown.
Singapore has also expressed its “grave concern” about the situation in Myanmar.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and hope all parties involved will exercise restraint, maintain dialogue, and work towards a positive and peaceful outcome,” said Singapore’s representative at the UN Human Rights Council meeting on 12 Feb.
“Myanmar is a close friend of Singapore and key member of ASEAN. We hope that the situation will return to normal as soon as possible,” she added, referring to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
However, Mr Ravi in a Facebook post on Sunday (14 Feb) pointed out that Singapore’s stance on the situation was “appalling” and “highly insensitive” to the people of Myanmar, as it was the police and other authorities who had used bullets — both real and rubber ones — and carried out arrests of peaceful protesters without any warrant.
“What stands out in contrast to other speeches: it does not condemn the military takeover, does not call for release of prisoners (!) and does not call for return to democracy or respect for Nov. 2020 elections.
“Some people have contacted me regarding this. I will say to our Myanmar friends that all right-thinking Singaporeans oppose the military takeover and people of Singapore condemn the serious violations of human rights and the ongoing atrocities committed by the military,” Mr Ravi assured.
In an earlier report, witnesses in Myanmar claimed that police fired rubber bullets at protesters after earlier blasting them with water cannon in Naypyidaw, the remote capital purpose-built by the previous military regime.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
Protesters gather in front of S’pore Embassy, calling to cut ties with Myanmar military coup
In a Facebook post on 13 Feb, activist Roy Yi Ling Ngerng shared photos of protesters gathering in front of Singapore Embassy in Myanmar — taken from Twitter user EiMyat_emm‘s page — demanding the country to stop all bank transactions with the military government.
They also called on Singapore-based mainstream media news outlet CNA to amplify the voices of protesters.
Singapore was listed as the largest foreign investor in Myanmar by the World Bank last year, accounting for 34 per cent of overall approved investment. Hong Kong came second with 26 per cent.
It was reported that about 20 Singapore-listed enterprises brought in US$1.85 billion into Myanmar in the past financial year 2019-2020, making it the top source of foreign investment in the country.
According to Dr Oh Su-Ann’s report in 2019 – a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute – Singapore’s investment in Myanmar involved 305 firms in total, consisting of Singaporean and Singapore-based enterprises.
In fact, there are several Singapore-run businesses that have been linked to the military in Myanmar.
For instance, RMH Singapore owns 49 per cent of Virginia Tobacco Company (VCTL), while 51 per cent of the company is owned by the military-linked Myanmar Economic Holdings Public Company (MEHL).
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan “fervently” hopes Myanmar can achieve “national reconciliation”
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament that he hopes for national reconciliation in Myanmar.
He was responding to questions from Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied GRC Gerald Giam, who asked whether there has been an increase in the number of requests for consular assistance from Singaporeans in Myanmar.
Mr Giam also asked if ASEAN will be issuing a joint statement on the situation in Myanmar and how these developments will impact ASEAN and its relations with major powers in the region.
In response, Dr Balakrishnan revealed that 500 Singaporeans in Myanmar have registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and 17 have returned to Singapore since Yangon International Airport reopened on 4 February.
“We hope fervently for national reconciliation in Myanmar. And the only way this can happen is if all parties, in good faith, sit down, talk, negotiate and achieve reconciliation.
“It is in that context that I express my hope that president Win Myint and the state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi would be released from detention so that they can sit down at the negotiating table and talk,” he noted.
Noting that the recent developments in Myanmar have been alarming, the Minister stressed that there should be no violence against unarmed civilians”.
However, Dr Balakrishnan said he has “urged against widespread sanctions” in his discussions with his counterparts in other countries.
“I’ve said that we should not embark on widespread, generalised and indiscriminate sanctions because the (ones) who will suffer the most, will be the ordinary people in Myanmar,” he stressed.
Though Singapore is Myanmar’s largest foreign investor, Dr Balakrishnan said he would refrain from giving companies specific advice, stressing that companies made the investments on commercial grounds and not under any political influence.
“It is crucial for us, in both good times and bad times, to maintain the separation between politics and business, and let businesses make commercial decisions, investment decisions on their own merits,” he noted.