Defence chiefs from a dozen countries on Sunday (28 March) jointly condemned the bloodbath in Myanmar a day earlier, when at least 100 people — including several children — were killed after security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters. Myanmar has been in turmoil since the generals ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, 2 months ago, triggering mass protests demanding a return to democracy.
US President Joe Biden has also led global condemnation of an “absolutely outrageous” crackdown by Myanmar’s junta on the bloodiest day ever since the coup started. President Joe Biden’s administration had already blacklisted top junta members and several military-owned companies.
The European Union has also imposed sanctions on 11 people linked to the coup in Myanmar. Canada and the United Kingdom have also imposed sanctions on the Tatmadaw over the coup and subsequent violent response to protestors, including imposing travel bans on individuals members of the military and freezing their assets in each respective countries.
Apart from global powers, countries in the region have also taken action against Myanmar. Australia, for instance, has suspended its defence cooperation programme with Myanmar and redirected humanitarian aid to non-government organisations, in response to the “escalating violence and rising death toll” in Myanmar.
Yet what has first world Singapore done in this egregious situation? Apart from Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan saying on Monday (1 Mar) that the use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians is inexcusable in all circumstances, not very much it would seem.
In fact, it would appear that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government has been uncomfortably silent in this disaster. As Singaporeans, are we in agreement with the Government’s stance on this? After all, remaining silent in the face of such brutality is to be complicit in its occurrence.
Former Member of Parliament (MP) for Hougang SMC Png Eng Huat has called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to firmly condemn the ongoing military coup in Myanmar by means of strong words and cooperative sanctions. Yet thus far, such sanctions are not forthcoming. Singapore as the most developed country in the region needs to exercise some leadership on this.
It is important to note that Myanmar and Singapore share close bilateral economic ties, and Singapore has ongoing investment projects and business interests in Myanmar. 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.
Singapore is in fact, the largest foreign investor in Myanmar. In view of this, Singapore has huge persuasive power over the events in Myanmar. Why is it not utilising its powers?
The Myanmese have obviously noted Singapore’s seeming complicity in this disaster and protesters against the military in Myanmar have taken to social media to call for a boycott of some Singaporean F&B brands, reason being “Singapore is not supporting the voices of Myanmar people”.
Singapore prides itself as an international city in the first world. Such honour however comes with responsibilities which would include protecting neighbours who are being murdered in a country that Singapore is investing so heavily into! Singapore, in its silence, has failed to discharge any of these responsibilities.
The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar (SAC-M) on Sunday (28 Mar) condemned the Myanmar military as an organisation engaging in terrorism by marking its Armed Forces Day with a barbaric massacre. Yet, why is the Singapore Government not taking a more concrete stance against a regime that is now considered a terrorist group? By not taking a concrete stance against a terrorist group, isn’t Singapore acting in contravention to international standards? In addition, is the Singapore Government tacitly approving of terrorism in a neighbouring country?
Singapore holds significant investments in Myanmar and monies from Myanmar military leaders in the city-state. It has the power to cut off funding to the perpetrators of the coup but yet, it has done nothing apart from issuing motherhood statements that have no effect. After all, actions speak louder than words. All this while, children are being massacred. This is a scourge on the conscience of the state!
Singapore is a first-world country and a leader in the region. It has to exercise leadership in this situation and take decisive action against the escalating situation in Myanmar. Especially now that it has been made clear that statements do not work. Why has Singapore not frozen the assets of the generals involved in the coup? Why has Singapore not pulled out from its investments in the country?
It is not as if there has been no precedent to Singapore taking a stand in international conflicts. In 2014 and 2018, Singapore actually took a step further than economic sanctions and non-military pressure by sending troops to Iraq to help combat terrorism. Why then is it not doing anything now? Terrorism is terrorism, isn’t it? Why is it that some acts of terror warrant more action than others?
At that time, this publication had criticised the Government for sending Singaporeans to Iraq although the Government persisted. Yet in this situation, much closer to home, the Government would not even freeze assets of domestic Myanmese terrorists?
Civil society has already taken a stand.
Human rights non-governmental organisation MARUAH Singapore is making a call to action to the people of Singapore to express solidarity with the people of Myanmar by sending in photos holding up the three-finger salute, which became a popular symbol of pro-democratic movements after the protests in Thailand.
“From Singapore: IN SOLIDARITY With The People In Myanmar” will entail compiling photographs of individuals holding up the three-finger salute in the form of a collage, with statements against the military coup d’état and the escalation of violence against peaceful protesters.
Statements objecting to the imprisonment and torture of political leaders, activists, journalists, and protesters, as well as those condemning the lack of action by regional and international communities will also be attached to the collage.
Yet, the Government remains inert in this most appalling of situations? Can those who lead us have the murder of children on its conscience?