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The Burma Singapore Axis (Part II)
- Subject: The Burma Singapore Axis (Part II)
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 10 Nov 1998 21:21:00
Subject: The Burma Singapore Axis (Part II) + Shielding Burma
Kyoto Journal No. 38
Last November, Singapore deployed its diplomatic arsenal to defend Rangoon
at the U.N.. Singaporean U.N. representatives made an effort to water down
the General Assembly resolution that castigated the Burmese government for
its harsh treatment of pro-democracy activists, widespread human rights
violations, and nullification of the free and fair elections that had voted
it out of power. In an "urgent" letter to the Swedish mission, which was
drafting the resolution, Singapore representative Bilahari Kausikan cited
"progress" in Burma and said that "the majority of your cosponsors have
little or no substantive interests in Myanmar. . . . Our position is
different. We have concrete and immediate stakes."
Objecting to parts of the resolution and attempting to soften the language,
Singapore's representative circulated the letter to key members of the
U.N.'s Third Committee on Human Rights "The driving force was definitely
business connections," according to Dr. Thaung Htun, Representative for U.N.
Affairs of Burma's government-in-exile. "Singapore is defending its
investments at the diplomatic level, using its efforts at the U.N. level to
promote its business interests.''
The protection of Singapore's "concrete and immediate stakes" is essential
to the ruling parks success in maintaining power and the basis of its
support for Burma, said Case Western Reserve University economist
Christopher Lingle. "Singapore depends heavily upon its symbiotic
relationship with crony capitalists and upon accommodating a high enough
rate of return to keep the citizenry in line. Therefore its very survival is
tied up with business and government investments."
William Ashton, writing in Jane's Intelligence Review, suggested an
additional incentive for Singapore's alliance with Burma. As Rangoon's major
regional backer and strategic ally, China has provided much of the weaponry,
training, and financial assistance for the junta. China's expanding
commercial and strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, coupled with
its alliance with neighboring Burma, is a source of great concern in
Singapore. The desire to keep Burma from becoming Beijing's stalking horse
in the region may provide another motivation for Singapore's wooing of
TURNING A BLIND EYE
The Singapore government has consistently disregarded the gross human rights
violations perpetrated by its allies in Burma. The U.N. Special Rapporteur,
appointed to report to the United Nations on the situation in Burma, has
been barred entry into Burma since 1995. The new U.S. State Department
Country report on Burma for 1997 states that its "longstanding severe
repression of human rights continued during the year. Citizens continued to
live subject at any time and without appeal to the arbitrary and sometimes
brutal dictates of the military dictatorship." Amnesty International reports
that there are well over 1,200 political prisoners languishing in Burmese
dungeons where torture is commonplace.
Singapore has issued no urgent letters about a recent report by Danish
Doctors for Human Rights which noted that "sixty-six percent of [the over
120,000] refugees from Burma now living in Thailand have been tortured" and
subjected to "forced labor, deportation, pillaging, destruction of villages,
and various forms of torture and rape." The doctors reported that refugees
witnessed the junta's military forces murder members of their families.
Singaporean leaders also seem unconcerned about the fact that the Burmese
government shut down almost all of Burma's colleges and universities
following student protests in December of 1996 and imprisoned hundreds of
students.48 At a February ceremony of the Singapore Association in Myanmar,
the Ambassador to Singapore presented a large check to Gen. Khin Nyunt ? who
is also Chairman of the government Education Committee ? for the "Myanmar
education development fund." While depriving young Burmese of higher
education, the junta's "Secretary 1" Khin Nyunt responded that "Uplifting
the educational standards of our people is one of the social objectives of
our Government." He then went on at length to extol the "firm foundation of
growing economic and trade ties" between Singapore and Burma.
The Burmese government has also kept computers and communication technology
away from students and others in opposition to the regime. All computers,
software, email services and other telecommunication devices ?
which hardly anyone can afford anyway ? must be licensed, but licenses are
almost impossible to obtain. Yet Singapore has made the best computer
technology available to the ruling elite and their business partners.
Singapore Telecom, the largest company in Asia outside of Japan, was the
first to provide Burmese businesses and government offices with the ability
to set up inter-and intra-corporate communications in more than 90 countries.
Singapore's concerns are dramatically different from those of countries
sharing a border with Burma. Thailand has to deal with the deadly narcotics
trade an overwhelming number of refugees arriving on a daily basis. Banphot
Piamdi, the Thai counter-narcotic official, believes Thailand made a big
mistake when it voted for Burma's entry into the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations (ASEAN), given Burma's lack of cooperation in fighting drugs.
Not surprisingly, the Singapore government lobbied hard for Burma's 1997
acceptance into the powerful regional trade alliance.
Ironically, Burma's inclusion in ASEAN may force member nations including
Singapore, to address the havoc that their newest ally is imposing on the
region ? especially since Burma provides approximately 90 percent of the
total production of Southeast Asian opium. China and India, Burma's other
neighbors, now face severe AIDS epidemics related to increased heroin use in
their bordering provinces. Most of the heroin exported from Burma to the
West passes through China's Yunnan province, which now has more than half a
million addicts. And even Singapore ? whose heroin supply comes mostly from
Burma ? had a 41 percent rise in HIV cases in 1997.
As we head into the "Asian century," Singapore has become Washington's
forward partner in the unfolding era of East-West trade. Ambassador Green
called the country "a major entry port and a natural gateway to Asia for
American firms." U.S. companies exported $16 billion worth of goods to
Singapore in 1996 and more than 1,300 U.S. firms now operate in the
country.56 Singapore's strategic and economic importance to the U.S. cannot
be overstated. The two countries just reached an agreement allowing the U.S.
Navy to use a Singapore base even though the deal violates ASEAN's 1997
nuclear-weapons-free zone agreement.
The U.S. has condemned the Burmese junta's record of human rights abuses
and support for the drug trade, but has turned a blind eye when it comes to
Singapore's dealings with the regime. Although President Clinton imposed
economic sanctions on Burma partly for its role in providing pure and cheap
heroin to America's youth, he has not commented on Singapore's willingness
to play ball with the world's biggest heroin traffickers. Ambassador Green
told Congress last year that the U.S. "has an important role in working with
the Singapore government to deal with illegal drug and weapons proliferation
issues," but most U.S. officials have remained silent about Singapore's
investments with Lo Hsing Han and Burma's narco-dictatorship. It's unlikely
Clinton made any mention of this issue last fall while golfing with
Singaporean Prime Minister Gob Chok Tong during the APEC summit in Vancouver.
Unless the financial crisis in Asia limits profits, Singapore will probably
continue to expand its investments in Burma. "Our two economies are
complementary and although vile can derive satisfaction from the progress
made, I believe that there still remains a great potential that is yet to be
exploited," said the junta's Gen. Khin Nyunt last February. Aided by
Singapore's support, Burma's thriving heroin trade has plagued the majority
of countries around the globe. While these countries blithely pour money
into drug-connected companies based in Burma and thereby help t hem to
expand into foreign markets, an abundance of the world's finest heroin
continues to plague their citizens. At the same time, the line between
legitimate and illegitimate investments grows dimmer in the global economy.
Leslie Kean is director of the Burma Project U.S.A. in San Rafael.
California. She co-authored the 1994 book Burma's Revolution of the Spint
The Struggle for Democratic Freedom and Dignity and with Dennis Bernstein
has published on Burma in the Boston Globe. the Baltimore Sun, The Nation
magazine, The Globe and Mail (Canada) and The Nation (Bangkok).
Dennis Bernstein, associate editor at the San Francisco-based Pacific News
Service, is an award-winning investigative reporter and radio producer. His
articles and essays on issues of national security and human rights have
been published widely in the U.S. and around the world.
No LET-UP IN 1998
In July, Jane's Defence Weekly broke the news of Singapore's latest
contribution to Burma's murderous regime: a prefabricated factory designed
to make small arms and weapons. It was delivered to Burma's Ministry of
Defence in 36 containers aboard a Singapore-registered vehicle in February,
1998. The factory was both custom built and tested by Chartered Industries
of Singapore ?
the same company responsible for the cyber warfare center ? in conjunction
with Israeli consultants, according to Jane's. Assault rifles and light
machine guns, produced at the plant, have already been distributed to troops
guarding Unocal and Total's controversal gas pipeline (see Shielding Burma,
Meanwhile, Singapore is cracking down even harder on its drug addicts ? many
of whom are likely using Burmese heroin. The Central Narcotics Bureau
announced in July that Singapore will jail and cane drug addicts who won't
kick their habit, rather than give them another chance in a rehabilitation
center or fine them as they had before. Now, hardcore addicts receive up to
thirteen years in jail and twelve lashings of the cane. To prepare for a
possible overflow in the prisons due to the new regulations, the authorities
are setting up an extra island detention center. "It doesn't pay to fool
with drugs," says Muhammad Sarbini, the bureau's assistant director of
intelligence. It's open to question whether the Singapore government agrees
with this when it comes to its investments in Burma.
?Leslie Kean and Dennis Bernstein, September 1998
by Leslie Kean and Dennis Bernstein
While Singapore and China are Burma's closest allies, other countries and
multi-national corporations provide a big shield for Burma's narcotics
trade. In 1997 alone, the military regime approved 60 new project worth
$1.27 billion, bringing total foreign investment since the regime come to
power to 299 projects worth $6.87 billion. Following Singapore in the
foreign investment lineup are Britain, Thailand and Malaysia, in that order.
The U.S. and France follow close behind.
Unocal?which no longer considers itself a US company but calls itself a
"global energy company" ? and the French oil giant Total have joined forces
with the Burmese regime and its state oil company Myanma Oil and Gas
Enterprises (MOGE) in building the $1.2 billion Yadhana gas pipeline through
Burma into Thailand. Fourteen Burmese plaintiffs filed on unprecedented
federal lawsuit in Los Angeles, holding Unocal and Total accountable for the
torture, rape, murder, forced labor and forced relocations of people living
on the pipeline route.
Unocal also faces allegations of fueling the heroin trade though its
relationship to the government-owned MOGE which is "the main channel for
laundering the revenues of heroin produced and exported under the control of
the Burmese army" according to a sworn affidavit for the federal suit.
Randy Renick, an attorney for the lawsuit, says this affidavit "provides
irrefutable evidence that Unocal is in partnership with criminal drug
dealers who ore making profits off the backs of the indigenous people of
In January, one Israeli and two British companies signed a contract with
MOGE for oil exploration and production, the largest investment in Burma so
far this year. The U.S. oil company Atlantic Richfield (Arco) and oil firms
from Indonesia and Malaysia have also entered into agreements with MOGE.
Back in Washington, the firm of Jefferson Waterman International is busy
campaigning against U.S. sanctions on Burma and giving a face-lift to the
Burmese government for $400,000 a year plus expenses.
Ironically, Ann B. Wrobleski, president of the firm, was the architect of
Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. As the Assistant Secretary of State
for the Bureau for International Narcotics Matters from 1986 to 1989, she
advocated the denial of U.S. anti-narcotics aid to the junta in 1989 until a
government supported by the people was in power.
In a 1989 statement to the House of Representatives Task Force on Narcotics
Control Wrobleski said that "prospects are for expanded cultivation of what
is already the world's largest supply of illicit opium in Burma." Her State
Department report the same year predicted accurately that Burma's opium
production would continue to increase and that "the military regime is
unlikely to resume any significant anti-narcotics activity for the near
Yet Wrobleski's crusade against drugs seems to have made on about-face since
she moved to Jefferson Waterman International. Her newsletter Myanmar
Monitor praises the military regime for making great progress in combating
drugs ? information which runs contrary to the current Narcotics Strategy
Control Report from her old department and the statements of Madeleine
Albright and President Clinton. "Western countries are turning a blind eye
to Myanmar's narcotics control efforts" proclaims a January issue, while
other headlines read "SPDC makes headway in Narcotics controls and "Myanmar:
serious about conquering drug trade."
Services provided by Jefferson Waterman also include "strategic counsel" and
"up-to-the-minute intelligence on how Washington views the foreign client,"
according to company information. Both the CEO of Jefferson Waterman
International, Charles E. Waterman, and the Senior Vice-President, Samuel H.
Wyman, were formerly officers for the CIA -- Wyman for 31 years.
A second firm, Bain and Associates, is receiving $21,500 per month plus
expenses from the Burmese construction company Zay Kobor ? which has strong
links to the highest levels of Burma's government ? to improve the image of
the regime in the media. With "exclusive permission from the Myanmar
government," Bain sponsored an invitation-only media tour to Burma from
February 24-27. Bain representative Laura Livingston suggested to
participants that they write about the fact that "through mass drug
burnings, strong anti-drug policies and innovative crop-substitution
programs, the government is committed to wiping out the scourge of opium and
drugs in present-day Myanmar." Livingston said that response from
journalists to her invitation was so enthusiastic that Bain doubled the
number of participants and had to turn others away. As a result, more tours
are being planned.