Singapore Praises U.S., EU Move to Ease Myanmar Sanctions
“Sanctions ought to go,” Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in an interview. Myanmar’s government “is keen to do what is necessary to uplift the lives of ordinary Myanmarese” and “we have to continue to encourage Myanmar diplomatically and commercially.”
EU foreign ministers yesterday suspended sanctions against Myanmar while the U.S. is considering lifting trade and financial restrictions for certain industries. The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar and Singapore, has repeatedly called on the West to lift sanctions on the nation of 64 million people.
Shanmugam also said the firing in China of former Politburo member Bo Xilai is only a “kerfuffle” and that Singapore is as positioned as it can be for a world economy “coming out of life support.”
Both Myanmar’s government and Western nations should continue the path they’ve taken after President Thein Sein took steps to reconcile with his opponents, Shanmugam said. U.S. and EU sanctions have increased Myanmar’s dependence on neighbors India, China and Thailand.
Myanmar’s per capita gross domestic product amounts to $2.25 a day, about half that of Vietnam and 14 percent of neighboring Thailand’s, according to International Monetary Fund estimates. Only one in 30 people has a mobile phone and even fewer have Internet access, Nomura Holdings Inc. said in a March 14 report.
The “unprecedented developments” allow the EU to open a “new chapter” in its relations with Myanmar, the bloc said in a statement yesterday. It called for the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and for humanitarian assistance to reach Kachin state, where government troops have clashed with ethnic minorities.
The sanctions “can be reimposed then if Burma turns in the wrong direction,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters as EU foreign ministers made the decision in Luxembourg, referring to the country by its former name. “Great progress is being made in Burma, but we remain very concerned about conflict and human-rights abuses.”
The EU praised the “transparent and credible” April 1 by- elections in which former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat. The vote built on government moves to ease restrictions on the media, releasing dissidents from jail and negotiate peace agreements with ethnic rebels.
“What has happened between October and March has been nothing short of stunning,” Shanmugam said. Still, he said, “No one is saying the changes are irreversible.”
Suu Kyi’s parliamentarians said they won’t take their seats in Parliament without changes to an oath to protect the constitution. Thein Sein said he has no plans to change the oath’s wording and called on Suu Kyi to decide whether she wants to join parliament, Kyodo News reported yesterday.
“The president and his government ought to be recognized and appreciated and encouraged and we all hope that the course will be stayed on,” said Shanmugam, who is also Singapore’s law minister. Singapore has helped train Myanmar public officials and has offered to do more, including helping on rule of law issues, he said.
Barriers to trade and finance make countries poorer and should be resisted, he said. With a weak world economy, Shanmugam said, a main concern is that the rhetoric of protectionism is getting stronger.
The IMF’s doubling of its war chest to fight possible further financial contagion will help bring confidence back to the world economy, Shanmugam said.
China’s once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year isn’t causing Shanmugam to lose sleep, he said. Bo, a contender for one of the country’s top posts, was ousted as chief for Chongqing municipality.
“It’s big news, but in terms of big high-stake politics, in terms of political stability of China, in terms of transition, I don’t see a major impact,” Shanmugam said.
“The risks are more economic for China: what sort of landing. I think China’s economy is managed competently, so the downside risks aren’t something I lose sleep over.”