President George W. Bush recently issued an executive order, banning Americans from doing business with companies controlled by persons or institutions related to the Myanmar junta.
Many of the companies blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department are listed and operating in Singapore. On top of the list is Asia World Ltd., which is controlled by Steven Law and his father Lo Hsing Han. Both of them are good friends of Gen. Than Shwe.
Early last month, the U.S. government also issued an executive order banning Americans doing business with Htoo Trading Company Ltd., a Myanmar group of companies owned by Tay Za, who also operates Air Bagan, a private airline company. Air Bagan regularly flies between Yangon and Singapore, and flights are reportedly often full of passengers connected to the junta and its cronies.
It seems that they enjoy spending their money in Singapore. They don't think about the poverty in their country and that most of their fellow Myanmar citizens live extremely difficult lives.
Take the lifestyle of Htet Tay Za, 19-year-old son of Tay Za, for example. He attends an exclusive and expensive international school in Singapore. He is said to be a big spender who always throws parties and is constantly surrounded by beautiful women.
Other senior leaders, such as Gen. Than Shwe or the late prime minister Soen Wein, were frequent visitors to Singapore's hospitals. The juntas' wives, when their husbands are in hospital beds, are happy to go shopping on Orchard Road.
Singapore is not only a major recipient of Myanmar money, it is also one of Myanmar's biggest Southeast Asian investors. Temasek Holdings, for example, is estimated to have invested more than US$3 billion in Myanmar. Other Singapore companies are also busy doing business with the junta.
They think it is a good time to do business with Myanmar while other countries are choosing not to. Singapore is only concerned with money. Singaporean cronies would do business with vicious dictators and perhaps even the devil as long as they got their money.
By providing investments, important materials and equipment not easily available from the West, Singapore has helped the Myanmar junta perpetuate its brutal rule over the Myanmar people. Unforgivable crimes against humanity, such as killings, rape, torture and detaining people without trial, have occurred under the junta, but the Singapore government continues to support the regime blindly.
We rarely hear strong condemnation and criticism against the junta. Within ASEAN, Singapore is seen as an obstacle in pushing Myanmar forward in improving their human rights conditions. As a wealthy nation, Singapore is more interested in making money than improving human rights.
Without financial and technical support from Singapore, the junta would be greatly weakened and might seek peaceful political solutions with the National League for Democracy. Thus, the continued support from Singapore means prolonging the suffering of Myanmar's people, destroying hope that the crisis will be over soon. Perhaps the distance between the two countries is great enough for Singapore to turn a blind eye to all the crimes committed by the junta. There is too much money to be made.
Ironically, the Singapore government, which is known for hanging drug dealers, is happy to have a 'love affair' with the Myanmar regime, which is strongly associated with drug barons. We believe that Singapore's authorities know all about the Myanmar drug dealers who use their legitimate businesses in Singapore as a guise for their black business.
Take Lo Hsing Han, for example. The owner of Asia World Pty. Ltd. has been blacklisted and branded as 'the godfather of the drug Mafia' in Southeast Asia, yet he has companies based in Singapore. He and his son, Steven Law, live happily on the island.
According to some reports, the Singapore government has also helped the junta build a cyber-warfare center in Yangon. The junta's intelligence officers may intercept all telecommunication traffic into Myanmar from more than 20 countries. Singapore has also been known as a military procurement center for the regime. It is known to have supplies of mortar, grenade launchers and other deadly weapons from Singapore. In short, Singapore has armed the regime.
In addition to their military connection, there are more and more Singapore companies doing business in Myanmar. They are, among others, DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Golden Aaron Pty. Ltd., Shangri-La Hotels, OCBC Bank, United Overseas Bank Group, Kuok Group and more.
It is time for the Singapore government and businessmen to use their conscience and moral obligation to stop aiding the junta. Act now or more people will be killed, raped and tortured by the junta which is assisted and kept in power by all the investments and financial facilities provided by Singapore.
The writer is chairman of AIPMC (ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus). He can be contacted at [email protected]