Sydney Morning Herald article on Singapore "disproportionate, unbalanced…misleading"

A reader, “Indochina“, posted a very well-analyzed comment on my blog post, “Myanmar junta leader’s family reportedly in Singapore” (Oct 2). This was in response to a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Singapore, a friend indeed to Burma” (Eric Ellis, SMH, Oct 1), which I linked to in my original blog post.

I’m reproducing it below because it is such a good piece on its own:

The actions of the Burmese junta are repulsive and beyond contempt and deserve the universal condemnation it is receiving. My friends there have suffered greatly and have seen family and friends die in the last uprising. In a heartbeat, I would be all for sending in an ASEAN peacekeeping force to mitigate the unbridled tyrannical power.

Nevertheless, I take issuance with Eric Ellis on his article. Its not that there isn’t a small element of truth in what he writes, but it’s disproportionate, unbalanced and a bit misleading.

Although he is well known writer, there is a sense that he writes with some underlying Australian chauvinism – sentiments which seem to be shared some of his fellow countrymen. The same sentiments are evoked in reading comments from Quantas, Telstra and so on. In any case, Ellis’s article has been carried with great speed through the Oceanic press which seems to indicate some popular position.

Perhaps in the Australian psyche, there’s a fundamental insecurity which arises from an inability to handle Asia rising, including ASEAN, in which Singapore stands as a prototype of increasing success – with many many warts and failings, but certainly not the Nee Soon whorehouse that one suspects that Ellis would prefer Singapore to have remained.

His previous articles – also criticisms of Singapore – the hanging of the Australian drug runner, the Shin Corp involvement in Thailand; were all tinged with some sense of the personal ire.

Why not talk about Thailand or the UK which are by far the top investors in Burma? Or castigate the Japanese, French, Belgians and Chinese who are also there. In the following “dirty list”, there are many nationalities to be accused, the least of which are Singaporeans.

And why not make it clear that, by and large, Singapore involvement has been in economic development with the airport with new hotels and development of tourism. Or even that Burma and Singapore have long been linked and that ties goes back to the 19th century and this is evidenced in the earliest Singapore road names – Rangoon, Mandalay, Pegu, Moulmein, all testify to this.

Why not look at possible outcomes and compare this with Singapore’s investment into Vietnam, which at one time was the largest investor, and how this in its own way helped trigger the economic boom that is making Vietnam the second fasted growing nation and that this boom is resulting in increasing individual freedoms – and how this was ASEAN’s overall objective of engaging with the whole of Indochina from the mid 90’s.

He writes that without Singapore’s support the Burmese Junta would weaken and fail; that’s nonsense – the Burmese army is 3 million people and they are paid by the oil revenues from the UK.

Looking at some of the accusations Ellis makes, contrast this with what Burmanet ( which is an online resource on Burma – and which is not afraid to say offensive things about the junta – has this to say about Tay Za.

“He knows that the regime has no future and is plagued with internal fighting. He also knows that his close ties with the top dogs make him vulnerable….Sources also report that Tay Za is keeping an eye on Deputy Snr-Gen Maung Aye, the army commander-in-chief, who has reportedly taken a dislike to him.”

Its not that I know anything personally about Tay Za or Lo or for that matter anyone in any way related to them, its just that the reporting is basically prejudiced and unbalanced in such a way as to be offensive.

With regards to the drugs trade in Burma, let us not forget that it was 2 divisions of the Kuomintang who were ordered by Chiang Kai Shek into northern Burma to develop the drugs business to fund the nationalist army. “To fight a war, you need guns. And to buy guns, you need money. In these mountains, the only money is opium. (General Tuan, speaking about why his Nationalist Chinese (KMT) troops were involved in the opium trade in Upper Burma)”. Go check it out, these guys were CIA funded

Finally, in considering Ellis’s accusation of Singapore’s complicity in perpetuating the Burmese junta, lets look at Australia’s high morals.

With regard to East Timor, Australia gave Indonesia economic and military assistance throughout the 24-year occupation and advocated on its behalf in the international community. The occupation resulted in the deaths of about a third of its East Timor’s population who got bombed with Napalm, with women raped by the thousands, and many tens of thousands more beheaded, tortured or simply disappearing. The report of the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) concluded that Australia was influenced by a desire to get the most it could out of maritime boundary negotiations affecting oil and gas reserves.

Ellis would do well to “take out the log from his eye first”

Thanks Indochina for the comment.

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.

10 thoughts on “Sydney Morning Herald article on Singapore "disproportionate, unbalanced…misleading"”

  1. Uhh, Ellis is not a representative of the Australian govt. Therefore he is not responsible for what the Aussies did in East Timor. For all you know he may have been against their East Timor policies as well. He’s perfectly ustified in taking the moral high ground against Singapore’s cooperation with the BUrmese junta, because he’s never been involved in such ventures before. He’s just a journalist, for god’s sake, not John bloody Howard.

    In any case, it’s irrelevant, since even if he’s a hypocrite (which, as I pointed out, hasn’t been proven), that doesn’t make Singapore’s cooperation with the junta any more justifiable. The accusations should be judged by their own merits and not by the qualities of the accuser. A murderer is a murderer and is guilty of immoral acts whether he is accused by a rapist or by a saint.

  2. For similar reasons all that stuff about the KMT and the drugs trade, about the investments by Thailand and the UK, etc. are irrelevant. So yes, the KMT, Thailand, the UK, etc. are guilty as well. That does not make Singapore any less guilty. Ellis is a Southeast Asia correspondent, and Singapore is the largest ASEAN investor in Burma. So it’s completely natural that he focuses on Singapore.

  3. So, Ellis is talking rubbish and making false accusations? Then, the SG government should sue Ellis.

    Our esteemed Mr Goh had said:

    “We have an understanding that if a minister is defamed and he does not sue, he must leave cabinet. By defamation, I mean if somebody says the minister is on the take or is less than honest. If he does not rebut it, if he does not dare go before the court to be interrogated by the counsel for the other side, there must be some truth in it. If there is no evidence, well, why are you not suing?”
    (cut & paste link)

    Also here:

    “If anybody defames us, the law allows us to (take) them to court so if you don’t take it out to the courts, it means that the allegations stand true. Say, somebody alleges that I have, for example, given funds of the government away to somebody else. I have got to stand up and take him to court, not charge him but take him to court. If I don’t, that allegation sticks. Then where is my standing in society? And we have a standing rule — if a minister is alleged to be dishonest plus other things, for example, the minister doesn’t take the person who alleges that to court, then that minister would have to face Cabinet and he has got to resign.”
    (cut & paste link)

    Our esteemed Mr Lee KY also said it too:

    “When I call a man openly, you’re a liar, you’re dishonest, and you do not dare to sue me, there’s something basically wrong…”
    (cut & paste link)

    So, PM Lee, please start the legal proceedings if what Ellis said is not true.

    But. I find it hard to believe a newspaper wants to write such news if they are checked and verified. Really stupid to invite lawsuits, right? But, what is new? SG government is famous for lawsuits, no matter who you are.

  4. I think the Ellis article has a lot of merit. The commentary you have posted in response goes off tangent and tries to deflect the issues at stake. It seems the writer takes things too personally, when in fact I feel that the criticism of singapore is justified.

  5. I have read a couple of articles by Ellis on Singapore, and I find his writings even more one-sided and unbalanced than the propaganda churned out by the Straits Times.

    And it’s a pity, because while there is definitely some truth in his article, Ellis’s haste and obsession to castigate Singapore makes his slant becomes so obvious that it’s difficult to convince any neutral parties about his objectivity.

    Balance and proportion are important because almost nothing happens in complete isolation. Perspective from a narrow focus is like three blind men trying to describe an elephant by each feeling a different part of a much larger whole.

    When we talk about global warming we cannot blame any single country; and when we look at the mess in Burma we cannot in any fairness blame Singapore alone without looking at the host of other countries that collaborates with the military dictators.

    I remembered that when Indonesia stopped the sale of construction sand to Singapore to gain leverage on the signing of an extradition treaty several months back, Burma was the first and possibly the only ASEAN country to offer to help Singapore.

    I’m not saying that we should sell our souls for sand, but I’m thinking that Singapore might be a tad ungrateful and hypocritical to jump to score on the human rights wagon right now.

  6. I think twasher is right in that Ellis does not represent the Australian govt (unlike say one of our ST journalists and the S’pore govt).

    I haven’t read enough of his writings to conclude that he is consistently biased against S’pore. But I notice a lot of Aussie journalists and academics do find it rather fashionable to take a strident stand against our govt. (Not saying there is no good reason to.)

    Anon – Thanks for those quotes. I didn’t know that the Cabinet ministers had such a pact. But I think it’s a bit ridiculous. Can you imagine George Bush taking out a lawsuit everytime some journalist or Democrat accuses him of being a liar? All the lawyers in America won’t be able to handle all those cases.

    AC – You said, “when Indonesia stopped the sale of construction sand to Singapore to gain leverage on the signing of an extradition treaty several months back, Burma was the first and possibly the only ASEAN country to offer to help Singapore.”

    I would argue that the sale of sand comes at zero cost to the junta. All they have to do is raze and level another village then sell all their sand to enrich themselves.

    There’s no need for Singapore to be grateful to the junta for anything. We gave them so many opportunities to make good — admitting them to Asean, defending them at the UN, etc. And they’ve paid us (incl. the rest of Asean) back by dragging our region’s name through the mud by their repressive and abhorrent actions.

  7. Argumentum ad hominem, is a logical fallacy consisting of criticizing a person when the subject of debate is the person’s ideas or argument, on the mistaken assumption that the validity of an argument is to some degree dependent on the qualities of the proponent.

    Attack the messenger instead of the message is a common enough ploy. PAP does this via its controlled media on oppositionists .

  8. Twasher/Gerald

    Agreed that Ellis does not act on behalf of the Aussie Govt although he definitely would be happy to identified close to as such once Kevin Rudd gets in hopefully.

    The comment by Indochina was the lopsided perspective and non-proportionality of assuming all Singapore based investments involve the Govt of the day. This can be seen from the sense of his articles pre his departure from Singapore and post haste Singapore

    Further,there is a set of assumptions used by Eric which basically identifies any Singapore registered company although considering the corporate sector is dominated by MNCs is a misnomer.

    Frankly, agreed that no further investments either non-military or military should be the way to go, but do realise that there are consequences for disinvestments outside of just economic. In this case, the tragedy is the same, a single death is a traversty but thousands/millions is a statistic.



  9. Thailand is the largest ASEAN investor by far in Burma. It WOULD be completely natural that he focused on the Thais.

    But he didn’t.

    The issue is that Ellis is interpreting so called facts in a misleading way; building a hotel becomes cooperation with the Junta and a Singaporean company becomes “Singapore”.

    A more balanced understanding of Burma is here.

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