Singapore is not concerned about the fate of Myanmar citizens, says Burma Human Rights Group Executive Director

Singapore would not go for economic sanctions against Myanmar as a response to the military coup there due to the multiple millions of dollars it has invested in various projects in the country, says Burma Human Rights Group executive director Kyaw Win, based in London.

In response to queries from TOC, Mr Kyaw Win said, “We understand that Singapore has been [a] safe heaven for the junta’s illegal money laundering for decades. So it is very clear that Singapore would lobby to prevent any sanctions.

“Why would Singapore concern for people of Burma being killed every day like chicken and birds on the street if it has no direct opportunity cost for Singapore?”

Mr Kyaw Win’s remarks were made in response to the earlier statement by Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in parliament that despite the “alarming developments in Myanmar”, widespread sanctions would hurt ordinary Myanmar citizens. Dr Balakrishnan ruled it out as an option.

“And so in all my discussions, my phone calls, I have said that we should not embark on widespread, generalised indiscriminate sanctions, because the people who will suffer most would be the ordinary people in Myanmar,” he said.

Instead, Dr Balakrishnan called on stakeholders in Myanmar to find a “long term, peaceful political solution including a return to its path of democratic transition.”

International condemnation of coup in Myanmar

While the Singapore government continues to reject the idea of sanctions as a tool to demand the end to coup in Myanmar which deposed the democratically elected admiration led by Aang San Suu Kyi in 2015, either widespread or targeted against those individuals leading the coup, other nations and international organisations have done the opposite.

As military response to anti-coup protesters turned bloody, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) released another statement on 1 April strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters, and the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of military, including children.

The statement, drafted by the British and approved by all 15 council members following intense closed-door meetings, expressed a “deep concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation” in Myanmar. It also reiterated the UNSC’s earlier call for the military, commonly known as the Tatmadaw, to “exercise utmost restraint”.

The statement also noted the UN Secretary General Antonio Guteress’ remarks on 27 March in which he called for a “firm, unified and resolute response from the international community.”

In earlier versions of the text, obtained by AFP, Western nations wanted to include a “readiness to consider further steps” — a reference to the possibility of international sanctions.

But China, considered Myanmar’s most important ally, blocked the language, diplomats said.

Beijing also insisted on softening a reference to the “killing” of hundreds of civilians and changing it to civilian “deaths”.

Russia, diplomats said, also blocked the text several times because Moscow wanted a sentence condemning the death of security forces members in demonstrations.

Still, despite the lengthy negotiations, getting the Security Council to speak with one voice sent a “very important signal,” one ambassador said on condition of anonymity.

Since the 1 February coup, the Security Council has issued three unanimous statements on Myanmar.

Besides the UN, various nations have come out individually against the coup as well, condemning the use of violence and urging the Tatmadaw to return Myanmar to the path of democracy.

On 27 March, defense chiefs from a dozen countries on Sunday jointly condemned the bloodbath in Myanmar following the killing of at least 90 people, including several children, by security forces who opened fire on anti-coup protesters.

A local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) put the death toll on that day at 423. The number continues to rise as the military shows no signs of letting up its response to protestors.

The defense ministers of 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia condemned the Myanmar military’s use of lethal force against civilians.

“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting -– not harming -– the people it serves,” the rare joint statement said.

“We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions.”

Earlier on 23 February, the G7 said in a statement that they “firmly condemn”  the Tatmadaw’s violent response to the anti-coup protests sparked by the coup on 1 February.

G7 foreign ministers said in a statement, “Use of live ammunition against unarmed people is unacceptable. Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account,” and urged the military to “exercise utmost restraint and respect human rights and international law.”

Since the coup began on 1 Feb, leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, the European Council, New Zealand and more have come forward to echo similar sentiments, condemning the military’s use of violence and urging for a peaceful resolution.

Singapore banks, the playground of Myanmar elites

Various countries have also resorted to sanctions on the Myanmar military and top military officials in an effort to dissuade further violence. The US has blacklisted top junta members and several military-owned companies, which the EU has imposed sanctions on 11 people linked to the coup.

Canada and the United Kingdom have also imposed sanctions on the Tatmadaw including imposing travel bans on individuals members of the military and freezing their assets in each respective countries.

Pressure is building for more countries to follow suit with sanctions, including Singapore, given that it is one of Myanmar’s largest foreign investor accounting for 34 percent of overall approved investment.

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.

Still, Singapore has not taken stronger measures apart from verbal condemnation of the coup.

In fact, Mr Kyaw Win was quoted by the South China Morning Post last month that a statement alone from Singapore “won’t be sufficient”.

He noted, “Singapore banks have long been the playground of Myanmar’s military elite, and have long held Myanmar public funds, including multibillion-dollar gas revenues.”

He slammed Singapore’s toughened position on the matter as merely a “public relations campaign” to keep the Western critics at bay.

“We are calling it crocodile tears, [we] never trust Singapore,” he said, adding, “There are some countries out there that prioritise their own interest but also show some morality. But I don’t see that in Singapore… they are all about their own interest.”

Now, in the midst of public discourse on how Singapore could have a positive impact on ending the bloodshed in Myanmar, some online commenters have suggested that Singapore send in its armed forces to physically intervene.

There are also other Internet Brigaders spinning a slippery slope narrative saying that Singapore cannot send troops to intervene when all the country needs to do is to impose sanctions.

Of course, we understand that Singapore cannot and should not send its armed forces to intervene militarily in Myanmar, but it can take action against the terrorists and criminals who have violated the laws of Myanmar by disrespecting the results of the democratic election.

It is clear that Singapore could, at least, confiscate the monies of the military generals that are located in Singapore. This could effectively freeze monies that are being used to fund the chaos in Myanmar.

Singapore could also pull its support for the Myanmar military by having local companies, especially government-linked companies out of there.

As Mr Kyaw Win said: ” All those years Singapore benefited [from] being associated with the fascist military and now it is screaming on the current situation.

“We hope Singapore [would] ceased all the bank accounts and properties owned by the fascist military of Burma. This is good for Singapore’s credibility. There is still room to start a new page of the relationship.”

So the question remains, will Singapore play its part to save Myanmar by imposing sanctions on the criminals who denied the people of Myanmar of their democratically elected leaders?

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