Suu Kyi hails Singapore as trade model
Laureate impressed by anti-graft measures
SINGAPORE: Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi cemented Singapore’s role as a major economic partner and model for her country on a five-day trip to the island, taking home what she said were valuable lessons on education policy and anti-graft measures.
But her endorsement of the wealthy city-state came with a caveat — Myanmar could do without the materialistic and high-pressure society that has accompanied Singapore’s decades-long transformation from tropical backwater to economic powerhouse.
‘‘I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve, but I wonder whether we don’t want something more for our country,’’ the Nobel Peace laureate said on Monday as she prepared to return home.
‘‘Perhaps Singapore could learn from us a more relaxed way of life.’’
Despite that reservation, Mrs Suu Kyi’s first visit to Singapore is seen as affirming Myanmar’s close ties with the city-state as it seeks investment and aims to tap technocratic expertise to help its transformation to democracy.
Mrs Suu Kyi, 68, met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, chief executives from some of the world’s biggest companies, and visited Singapore’s successful anticorruption bureau. She was able to see the fruits of the island’s success at two of its universities and also took in a Formula 1 race on Sunday.
Mrs Suu Kyi has shifted from democracy icon to opposition boss in the country’s parliament after her party won by-elections last year. She had been kept under house arrest for 15 of 20 years after the junta ignored the results of a 1990 election won by her party.
She said Singapore could provide the key planks of her country’s development model as it grapples with huge challenges, ranging from a decrepit infrastructure to ongoing ethnic violence.
‘‘A lot of [Myanmar people] look to Singapore when they think of economic reforms in our country because they see the success of Singapore, and many of our young people are getting their education here, so these are the sectors where many of our people feel they can learn from,’’ she said, referring to Singapore’s education and anti-corruption policies in particular.
Singapore was a major proponent of maintaining diplomatic relations and providing humanitarian aid to Myanmar under the military junta that was shunned and sanctioned by the West. In 2001, it established a centre in the commercial capital Yangon to provide education for public servants, giving them training in English, trade, finance and IT.
Now it is reaping the benefits of those ties as the country of about 60 million opens up to investors after a quasi-civilian government took power in 2011.
All three of Singapore’s banks — DBS Group Holdings Ltd, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd and United Overseas Bank Ltd — have had representative offices in Myanmar since the 1990s, while Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic Holdings is aiming to become one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
‘‘Singaporean firms are rushing into Myanmar, with foreign investment rising sharply in recent months,’’ said Kevin McGahan, a political science lecturer at the National University of Singapore.
Mrs Suu Kyi, who plans to run for Myanmar’s presidency in 2015 if the constitution allows, is looking for more than just capital inflows and training courses from Singapore, urging an estimated 150,000 Myanmar nationals living there to support their homeland and use their skills to develop the country.
On Sunday, more than 5,000 members of the Myanmar community packed into a ballroom in one of Singapore’s resorts to hear her deliver that message.
‘‘She asked us to help and I will. I want to contribute what I learn to my country,’’ said Chit Lin Su, 23, a computer science student at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.