Suu Kyi calls for S’pore investment

Disunited we fall: Aung San Suu Kyi. Source: Wikimedia

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said national reconciliation was “unavoidably important” to attract investment, while characteristically avoiding any mention of the Rohingya Muslim community in troubled Rakhine State.

“We do not want our country to be unstable. But we’ve had a long history of disunity within our nation,” Suu Kyi told business leaders at an IE Singapore’s Global Conversations event. “So national reconciliation is unavoidably important for us. It’s not a matter of choice. It’s unavoidable. We have to achieve peace and national reconciliation that our country may be able to progress, and that those who wish to invest in our country may find the right amount of confidence.”

Reports of military attacks against the Rohingya, alleged to amount to genocide, caused thousands to march in Bangladesh last week with smaller rallies in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Suu Kyi three-day trip to Singapore includes a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She said she hoped Myanmar’s GDP would overtake that of Singapore in 20 years, while asking for the Lion City’s help.

She was keen to project an image of positivity to potential investors, rather than one dominated by ethnic conflict. Singapore has been the leading source of foreign investment in Myanmar, with US$4.3 billion during the last financial year, largely because it was used as a conduit for European and US cash to avoid sanctions western sanctions.

“Prosperity will help our people to understand that united, we progress together,” said Suu Kyi, who is also Myanmar’s foreign minister. “If we wish to be a strong and prosperous nation, we have to learn to give, to compromise, to engage in dialogue.”

Last year, Singapore was Myanmar’s third-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade of around US$5 billion.

“At the beginning of Singapore’s independence, the then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, said that in 20 years’ time, Singapore would have caught up with Burma,” she said. “I think we have to change that a bit and say: in 20 years’ time, Myanmar will have overtaken Singapore and you will help us to do that because success in one part of the region means success throughout the region and we have never found it difficult to engage with Singapore economically.”

Suu Kyi hailed the new Myanmar Investment Law, which includes incentives in income-tax exemptions and land use.

The law, a combination of the existing Citizen’s Investment Law and the Foreign Investment Law, is expected to be in operation by April.

“Our new investment law is intended to be business friendly and we hope the new procedures that we are putting in place can make it much easier for you to go about your businesses in security… You will not be deprived of your businesses unjustly, unexpectedly, directly or indirectly,” the 71-year-old said.