ALTHOUGH Burma has been wracked by decades of civil unrest and is now said to be edging on a full-blown “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslims, its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has trotted out an ambitious plan to have her country overtake Singapore’s economy in two decades.
Speaking at a business dialogue in Singapore on Wednesday, the Burmese State Counselor said she hopes her regional neighbour would lend a helping hand.
“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, as quoted by Channel News Asia.
“I think we have to change that a bit and say: In 20 years’ time, Myanmar (Burma) 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.”
The 71-year-old Nobel laureate said Burma has been “left behind” and hindered by “different factors” compared to its Southeast Asian neighbours, adding she hopes Singapore would help the country become more vibrant on the political and economic fronts.
“Politics and business cannot be separated particularly at this time when we are trying to make our country not just united and peaceful, but also prosperous,” she was quoted as saying. “For that, we look to you to advise us, to work together with us and to make our country vibrant, not just politically but also economically.”
Suu Kyi is on an official visit to Singapore that lasts three days, ending Friday. On her schedule is a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In October, Suu Kyi admitted to Burma’s sluggish economic growth at 7 percent in the first six months of her rule following a World Bank report, which cited heavy flooding and investment slowdown during the 2015 election period that was also hampered by external factors.
The recorded 7 percent growth was less than the average rate of 8.5 percent in 2013 and 2014 but higher than expected, as the World Bank had trimmed its 2015-16 forecast from 8.2 percent to 6.5 percent.
For decades, Burma has been plagued by civil war as ethnic minorities fight for greater autonomy from the central government, which has long been an Achilles’ heel in the nation’s plans for greater cohesion, growth and development.
There are at least 15 different rebel groups that are actively taking up arms across Burma since the country achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1948. Some of the groups, such as the Kachin Independence Army and the United Wa State Army, have controlled and administered large swaths of territory for years, according to CNN.
Although the government has been engaged in ceasefire talks with the groups, representatives of Burma’s ethnic minorities say the peace process remains an uphill task.
As it aims to attract overseas investments and bolster its economy, the Burmese government is also faced with the challenge of addressing the issue of an ethnic minority that it refuses to recognise as its citizens.
Longstanding discrimination by the Buddhist majority against the Muslim Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state exploded into bloody violence in 2012, leaving more than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, in displacement camps.
Since Oct 9 this year, Burmese security forces have been pouring into Rakhine in a fresh round of violence that was triggered by a series of attacks on border guard posts by what the government says was carried out by Rohingyan insurgent groups.
The recent escalating violence has left an estimated 100 people dead and displaced another 30,000 while government security forces have been accused of burning down homes and raping dozens of Rohingya women.
On Tuesday, United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) office expressed alarm over reports of ‘serious rights violations’ in Rakhine that cite allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and sexual violence.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the government needs to condemn the renewed spike in hate speech as failing to do so threatened to “exacerbate the current spiral of violence”.
“Protection of civilians and unfettered humanitarian access to conflict affected areas is critical,” the UN rights chief said.
“Measures that may heighten the vulnerability or pose threats to the safety and security of internally displaced people – such as requiring internally displaced persons (IDPs) to cross conflict lines – must be avoided.”
Suu Kyi, who has been the subject of criticism for her apparent reluctance to address the Rohingyan ‘genocide’ , also said in Singapore that national reconciliation is “unavoidably important” for the country to attract investment, but gave no specifics on how her government intends to resolve violence and discrimination against the marginalised community.
Suu Kyi, who swept into power last year after wresting the government from decades of junta rule, said that national reconciliation is also not “a matter of choice. It’s unavoidable.”
The accounts of military attacks against the Rohingya community caused thousands of people to march in protest in Bangladesh last week. Smaller protests occurred in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The protests against the violence in Indonesia has forced Suu Kyi to cancel her working visit to the country while the Malaysian government has called for a review on Burma’s membership in ASEAN, Southeast Asia’s main regional organisation.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press