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Asean-US ties 'benefit the most from Myanmar reforms'

Publication Date : 25-04-2012


Asean's relations with America stand to benefit the most from Myanmar's opening up, Singapore ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee said.

Referring to the historic by-elections in Myanmar on April 1, Professor Chan told student journalists at the University of Pennsylvania on Monday evening that it was "fortunate" that Myanmar was in the next phase of opening up, having elections, and moving on to a path of reform.

"If the US were to engage with Asean and find they have to put Myanmar in a different category, it wouldn't make a re-engagement policy as complete or as convincing. Fortunately, all 10 countries can now participate," she said.

The US and other world powers have relaxed some sanctions against Myanmar after a spate of reforms in the last few months which has seen democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi win a seat in Parliament.

Chan added that though the financial slump has made it difficult for the US to commit more resources to the region, 'the intention is there'. She cited the Lower Mekong Initiative, a cooperative effort among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and the US, and President Barack Obama's links to the area - he grew up in Indonesia - as proof.

The ambassador also discussed Singapore's brand of democracy.

While the recent Yale-NUS debate may have fuelled cries for the right to free speech, Chan said Singaporeans are more concerned with "bread-and-butter issues" such as housing prices and rising inflation. In fact, if Singaporeans were to rank their priorities, she said, many would say one of the most important rights is "to be educated to the level they deserve".

Chan also gave a lecture on globalisation and democracy in Singapore to students at the University of Pennsylvania, and mingled with students from Singapore afterwards.

During the speech, Chan said every country has its own brand of democracy. "We are very pragmatic," she said, speaking about the nature of Singaporeans. "We are very Chinese, Indian, Malay. We are not Anglo-Saxon... To die for liberty, you know, is French. It's very different. It's a different culture."

The People's Action Party (PAP), she said, has been a responsive government. "Even if their policies aren't always exactly what we want, they believe in good governance," she added.

"The PAP treats every election as a referendum on themselves, even when the opposition is not really a factor to be reckoned with," she said. "If they get 50 per cent of the vote, they'll feel like they have done a bad job."


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