You sell us sand, we’ll help you…

The Myanmar junta has offered to be a “long-term supplier of sand, cement and granite to Singapore”. Since this offer has been announced so loudly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we can safely assume that the offer will be accepted.

I noticed that the caption under the picture in TODAY reads “Lending each other a hand”. Well, Myanmar is lending us a hand by selling us sand. I wonder what quid pro quo arrangement they could be expecting in return?

Perhaps a toned down rhetoric on their lack of progress on their Roadmap to Democracy? (Singapore’s pressure played no small part in getting Myanmar to pass on its ASEAN chairmanship in 2005.)

That we do not push for an ASEAN Human Rights Commission which would likely impact Myanmar the most? (So far only Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand have been pushing for that as part of the upcoming ASEAN Charter. Singapore has been very silent on it.)

That we do not ask them to free Aung San Suu Kyii and do not make statements criticising them (the same way as we criticise North Korea and Iran)?

That we jam all attempts by the US and European countries to take Myanmar to the UN Security Council? (Don’t underestimate the ability of our diplomats in New York. They’ve performed such feats before.)

In all likelihood, the proceeds from the sale of sand, granite and concrete will go almost directly into the pockets of the generals, via the companies that they own, and in the process prop up the regime the same way that the drug trade does. Sadly, because this will benefit Singapore’s economy, we can expect that moral considerations can take a backburner. Nevermind that this might be the same sand that has soaked up the blood of the thousands of civilians and monks that the military gunned down during the 8 August 1988 (8888) Uprising. (I have an ex-colleague who was a diplomat in Rangoon then who actually witnessed the students being fired upon.)

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

9 thoughts on “You sell us sand, we’ll help you…”

  1. Hi
    You know how I feel about the Myanmar dictatorship and how it (mis)treats its own people like Aung San Suu Kyi!
    But this time, I will not condemn Sg for accepting Myanmar’s sand/granite.
    We are pushed against the wall and this is the lesser of evils. The best option would be when Indonesia releases its sand/granite again but I don’t think it is gonna happen soon till the political situation there plays itself out.
    In the real world of politics ( as you are aware), anything is possible so long as it serves our own strategic interest.
    Eg. We asked for Egypt for help with SAF, but they rejected our call and we got the “Mexicans” their neighbours to help us.


  2. Dr Huang – You’re right. This is a tough call, because it concerns our own national interests. Even if Indon releases the sand, it is in our interest to diversify our sources. In any case, it’s not like as if we are breaking our sanctions on Myanmar. We have been actively trading with their generals (some say their drug lords too), so this isn’t exactly a shift in policy.

    Sigh…does it really have to be a choice between what is morally right and what is right for the country? I believe the two go hand in hand. But it may not be apparent to the average pragmatic Singaporean official.

  3. wow gerald! i think this is the first time i official read through your blog. i came upon it while googling on MM’s latest statement on the salary issue :)

    This is great stuff.. short of sounding like an ‘airhead’, i must say honestly that i feel “educated” going through ur blog. I wish i’d ur head for political details.. but ya.. i will be coming back here :)

  4. Singaporeans have become less superstitious then…hopefully the bloody sand is not used to build the casino.

    I’m kidding.

    Real shame we are re-establishing ties with the military junta. Although to be fair I suspect the average Singaporean would take the sand and not care much about the evils of the junta.

  5. hey Ivy – welcome to blogosphere! Do come back more! :)

    fabian – Our ties with the Myanmar junta have always been excellent. The only time we speak up against them is when their reckless actions threaten Asean’s standing. :(

  6. We wouldn’t need so much sand if we weren’t so obsessed with building, demolishing and rebuilding.

  7. Hi

    I am a Burmese engineer living and working in UK. I am not an elite and I have no ties, love or hate to the military government. I disagree most of the policies and practices the government of Burma is doing its own citizens, opposition and dealing with foreign governments.

    But in this issue, I think it is of no harm for Burma to trade with Singapore, as it will create jobs in Burma. Dealing with Singapore, which has the most transparent and cleanest business practices among ASEAN region will be good for Burmese businessman too. Strategically located between China and India, and arch rival Thailand, it will be good for future democratic Burma to have good and long term relationship with Singapore. So as a Burmese citizen, I welcome this as an opportunity for Burma and Burmese.

  8. Aung,

    Thank you for your comment. I think there are many other exiled Burmese who advocate strict sanctions against the junta to cut off all forms of support. Personally I’m not pursuaded that will be entirely effective because they still have India and China. Still, I feel there needs to be stronger signals of disapproval for the regime’s methods than what is currently coming out from the Singapore government.

  9. Well Brother Aung,

    So as a Burmese citizen, I welcome this as an opportunity for Burma and Burmese. ( written by Aung).

    Even after 62, 88 and 1990 election,Never seen, never happened to these poor Burmese people. Wake up please.


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