Thu 31 Mar 2005
Filed under: ASEAN,News
Yangon: Singapore and Myanmar (Burmese) leaders yesterday discussed political developments in Myanmar when they met for talks in this bustling capital. Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong was briefed on Myanmar’s democratization process shortly after arriving. The subject came up when he made separate calls on Prime Minister Soe Win and State Peace and Development Council Chairman Than Shwe in the afternoon.
Mr Lee is on the second leg of introductory trips to Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. During yesterday’s talks, he reiterated that political developments in Myanmar were a matter for its people to decide. However, Mr Lee also noted that “in an interdependent world, developments in one ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country could impact on ASEAN as a whole,” his press secretary told reporters yesterday.
This is the stand that Singapore has been taking amid mounting criticism of Myanmar’s crackdown on pro-democracy opposition groups. While the republic has stressed its position of non-interference in ASEAN members’ domestic matters, it has noted that Myanmar’s affairs could undermine the image and value of ASEAN.
Myanmar is due to take over the chairmanship of the regional grouping next year, and this has raised concerns within ASEAN and in Europe. Yesterday, leaders of both countries agreed that this issue would be discussed further, when ASEAN’S foreign ministers meet in Cebu, Philippines, next month. Likewise, they agreed that the upcoming East Asian Summit should adopt an “inclusive approach”.
Member states have been divided over whether Australia, New Zealand and India should be included or not. The leaders were also united on another thing: That Singapore and Myanmar would continue strengthening bilateral relations, such as in technical assistance. Singapore is one of Myanmar’s largest foreign investors, having pumped in 1.5bn US dollars (2.5bn Singapore dollars) so far.
Singaporean companies have stakes in numerous joint ventures here, in such industries as aviation and manufacturing. The growth potential of Myanmar’s tourism sector also came up during the talks, with leaders agreeing to look at expanding air links between the two countries. SilkAir now flies to Yangon 10 times a week, and Myanmar Airways International, flys the route three times a week. A boost for air links could mean stepping up the frequency, with direct flights to the famed historic city of Mandalay possible. More than 10,000 Singaporeans visited Myanmar last year, and it is hoped that extended air links would boost this number.
At lunch yesterday, Mr Lee also met Singaporean businessmen, who gave him feedback on the prospects and problems here. While some have found profitable niche markets such as education, others have reported frustrations in dealing with bureaucracy. In talks after lunch, leaders of the two countries also exchanged views on improving the business environment in Myanmar, to attract more foreign investment. Today, PM Lee will leave for Phnom Penh, to complete the final leg of introductory visits to ASEAN capitals.