Singapore dismayed by use of lethal force against demonstrators in Myanmar

"The use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians is inexcusable", says the city state

The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has said that the country is dismayed by the reports of civilian casualties following the use of lethal force by security forces against demonstrators in Myanmar.

This is in response to media queries on the firing of live rounds and rubber bullets by security forces in Myanmar at protesters in the country’s second-largest city of Mandalay on Saturday which left at least two dead and about 30 injured.

A MFA spokesperson said, “The use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians is inexcusable. We strongly urge the security forces to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further injuries and loss of lives, and take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and restore calm.”

“The authorities must prevent further violence and bloodshed. All parties should seek a political solution for national reconciliation, including a return to Myanmar’s path of democratic transition, through dialogue without resorting to violence. If the situation continues to escalate, there will be serious adverse consequences for Myanmar and the region.”

MFA says that the Singapore Embassy in Yangon has been in touch with Singaporeans in Myanmar and advises Singaporeans in Myanmar to remain indoors as far as possible and avoid unnecessary travel to areas where protests are occurring.

It also advises them to take necessary precautions for their personal safety, and eRegister immediately at https://eregister.mfa.gov.sg, so that MFA can contact them should the need arise.”

Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan had earlier said on Thursday that there should be no violence against unarmed civilians in Myanmar, adding that live rounds should not be fired on them under any circumstances.

“He stressed that there should be no violence against unarmed civilians,” said MFA in a press statement after Dr Balakrishnan met Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who was in Singapore for a two-day visit.

Both ministers expressed “grave concern” over the ongoing developments in Myanmar, said MFA.

They also discussed possible next steps for ASEAN to address the situation in Myanmar.

Foreign Affairs Minister: “crucial” for Singapore to separate politics and business

Dr Balakrishnan had said in Parliament on Tuesday (16 Feb) that it would be “crucial” for Singapore to separate politics and business, and “let businesses make commercial decisions and investment decisions on their own merits”.

The Minister, who was responding to parliamentary questions from Members of Parliament (MPs) Christopher de Souza and Gerald Giam, believes that this would be “a good time” to maintain such discipline.

“So no, I will not give specific advice to companies, but I will make, to the maximum extent possible, all information available in this House and beyond, so that people can make their own commercial and investment decisions,” he noted.

Dr Balakrishnan also acknowledged that Singapore is the largest investor in Myanmar and revealed that the country’s cumulative approved investments were at US$24.1 billion as of December last year.

However, he claimed that the major proportion of the investments have occurred in the last five years under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

In fact, the last five years saw “a ten-fold increase” in Singapore’s direct investments in Myanmar, compared to the preceding five-year period, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“I want to stress that companies made these investment decisions on commercial grounds.

“They did not do so because of political influence, or political suggestion on our part. But I believe that the commercial companies saw promising opportunities in Myanmar that was undergoing democratic transition,” he added.

Singapore’s Myanmar largest investor

Commenting on the military coup, a spokesperson from Enterprise Singapore’s (ESG) told TODAY (4 Feb) that the Singapore government is “deeply concerned” about the latest developments in Myanmar.

“Myanmar and Singapore share close bilateral economic ties, and we have ongoing investment projects and business interests in Myanmar. We will monitor the situation closely,” said the spokesperson.

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.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) commitments into Myanmar were worth US$5.5 billion (£4 billion) in the 2020 fiscal year, which ended in September, as reported by BBC.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported last October 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.

Hong Kong came second with an estimated capital of US$1.42 billion, followed by Japan with US$760 million worth of investment.

According to Dr Oh Su-Ann’s report in 2019 – a visiting fellow with ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute – Singapore’s investment in Myanmar involved 305 firms in total, consisting of Singaporean and Singapore-based enterprises.

Citing ESG’s statistics in 2017, she noted that these companies mainly put investments in the information and communications sector (73%), manufacturing (14%) and real estate (4.6%).

S’pore-run companies listed in Burma Campaign UK’s “Dirty List”

Aside from RMH Singapore, there are several other Singapore-run businesses that have been linked to the military in Myanmar by Burma Campaign UK.

This was first highlighted by blogger Swe Sin Tha, in her blog post published on Tuesday.

She cited the Burma Campaign UK’s “Dirty List” released in May last year, which highlights the role of international companies in assisting the military in Myanmar to “continue to commit human rights violations”.

It was stated that the list is “by no means comprehensive”, given the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) estimation of the military-controlled Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEH) alone has at least 50 joint ventures with international companies.

“Information on UMEH and the other military conglomerate, Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and all their subsidiaries is mostly not publicly available,” said Burma Campaign UK.

It is also commonly known that the Myanmar’s generals park their assets in Singapore banks and allegedly use the country’s banks to launder their money. This has been denied by Singapore, stating that the country’s rules against that are as strict as any other financial centres around the world.

Protesters have been calling out for boycotts of Singapore companies in light of Singapore’s apathy towards the situation in Myanmar.

 

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