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Special Report: From Proxy to Principle: Singapore's Myanmar Policy

March 2010
Singapore Institute of International Affairs

The relationship between Singapore and Myanmar is controversial, complex, and evolving. Singapore is closer to Myanmar than other developed nations; it engages Myanmar through dialogue, investment, aid, and technical assistance. But it is not a defender of the regime, and increasingly it has offered critical comments.

Meanwhile, Singaporean businesses are not deepening their economic engagement and investments in Myanmar. A wave of early investors went into the country when it first opened up economically and joined ASEAN, but this has tapered off in response to economic conditions and uncertainties in the policy environment for business.

The complexity of the Singapore–Myanmar relationship was reflected in the breadth of opinion offered by participants who attended a roundtable discussion hosted by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs on September 30, 2009. Leaders from the Singapore academic, business, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) communities attended the meeting. Their contributions are graciously acknowledged and provide a strong foundation for this report.

Although the group did not reach an overarching consensus on how Singapore should engage Myanmar, the participants did reach conclusions on several points while illuminating many aspects of the relationship. The discussion reflected differences over Myanmar among the different sectors of society represented in the dialogue, as well as shifting public opinion of Singapore’s own image and responsibilities.

The group highlighted several concerns about the Myanmar situation and Singapore–Myanmar relations, some gleaned from the group’s uniquely Singaporean perspective. At the meeting’s end, the group proposed a spectrum of options for considering policy recommendations. This report summarizes the dialogue in four sections.

First, the overall outlook on Myanmar is presented. Second, Singapore’s involvement with Myanmar in four sectors is described: government and diplomacy, business and trade, humanitarian aid and technical assistance, and military ties. Third, Singapore’s policy options are discussed and sketched on a spectrum from “proxy” to “pragmatic” to “principled” approaches. Finally, the report suggests how Singapore’s strategy fits into regional and global contexts.


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