“Anything goes” is a bad foreign policy

This article ran in Saturday’s Pravda, but they didn’t post it on the intertubes – which is a shame, because it’s not often you get this sort of insight into Singapore’s foreign policy. If you had to describe that foreign policy in one word, it’d be “impotent”:

Asean ‘has little leverage’ over Myanmar

Both Singapore and Asean have little leverage over Myanmar, despite the latter being a member of the 10-nation grouping.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this is because even if Asean decides not to do business with Myanmar, it would have no material impact on the junta-led regime.

He said: “If Asean decides not to do business with Myanmar, are we better off or worse off?”

I’d have said “better off” – but don’t forget, Singapore and Myanmar have a notoriously friendly relationship. (Singapore and Burma, sittin’ in a tree: pre-vi-ous-ly on J-R-E.)

He added: “Can we close off their borders? Their northern border is with China, (which is not going to close). Myanmar has a border with India, and (the Indians) are not going to see that closed so that the game is left to the Chinese.”

Although Singapore maintains good relations with the country, trade links are not significant, he pointed out. The upshot: “Asean has minimal pressure points with Myanmar.”

So Singapore “maintains good relations” with the Burmese junta, but doesn’t have any actual clout with them? Or Singapore does have clout, but is too scared of pissing off the thugs who run the place? Either way, it’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Lee was interviewed by the BBC yesterday as host of the Apec forum.

Asean has often been pressured by human rights groups to crack down on Myanmar, which has often been criticised for human rights violations.

Asked about Myanmar generals who visit Singapore, Lee said: “You can inflict personal indignities on leaders. But is that the way to influence the country and to change a country’s policies?”

So as far as I understand it, the government’s policy on rogue states (and they don’t come much more rogue than Myanmar) is “carry on, nothing to see here, we’re not going to impose any restrictions on you, please come and do business here pretty please”.

What an absolute disgrace. What other first world country would be so amoral?

If Singapore had a functioning opposition, they would have called the government onto the carpet over this. But the opposition parties are fractious and fractured; they won’t work with each other, so there’s no-one to hold the government to account, and nobody to stand up and say “chuck him out and elect me instead”.

He added: “They are in it for regime survival and for personal survival, and unless those concerns somehow can be managed in a transition forward, they are not going to be persuaded by sweet talk.”

“They won’t leave without a get-out-of-jail-free card, and we’re going to give it to them”.

Update: And today this appears in the NYT. At least the USA does something about dictators.

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