Singapore links investment to Myanmar democracy

June 12, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Nopporn Wong-Anan & Aung Hla Tun

Singapore’s new investment in Myanmar hinges on the progress of democracy there, Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has told the ruling generals during a recent visit, local media reported on Friday.

“I believe no Singapore investor will come in a big way before this move towards democracy is seen to yield some results,” the Straits Times quoted Goh, a former Prime Minister, as telling reporters at the end of his four-day visit in Myanmar.

The message was conveyed to Prime Minister Thein Sein during a meeting in which the Myanmar leader said he wanted to lure Singapore investors back after many of them had left the country, facing tough trade sanctions from the West, the daily reported.

His press office confirmed the report.

Singapore is Myanmar’s third-largest foreign investor, after Thailand and Britain, with an accumulated value of $1.5 billion, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce.

The city-state is also Myanmar’s second-largest trade partner after Thailand with bilateral trade valued at $1.22 billion during the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2008.

Goh said he had urged the generals to make the 2010 election fair, transparent and inclusive, with all parties wanting to contest being allowed to do so, the Straits Times reported.

The military junta that has ruled the former Burma since 1962 has put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial, accusing her of breaking the terms of her house arrest because an American man swam to the Nobel Peace laureate’s lakeside home.

Critics say the trial is scripted and aimed at silencing the charismatic leader of the National League for Democracy. She could be jailed for up to 5 years if found guilty, which would put her away until after a general election scheduled in 2010.

Goh said the ruling generals realised they had to democratise, but they were being practical and doing it cautiously, state media reported.

“Myanmar has come to a cul de sac. How does it make a u-turn? I think that’s not easy,” Channel NewsAsia television quoted him as saying.

Singapore’s more sympathetic approach contrasts with the West’s toughening pressures on a military regime that has turned the former “Rice Bowl of Asia” into an isolated and poverty-stricken nation over the past five decades.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy jointly criticised the ruling generals on Thursday for their attitude over Suu Kyi and said they were trying to enlist its top supporters China and India to exert further pressure.