Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs regarding allegations in the report of the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar dated 16 January 2023 claiming that Singapore functions as a “strategic transit point for potentially significant volumes of items” including raw materials that contribute towards military production by the Myanmar military, whether the Government will carry out a check on all Singapore companies, including companies that may be implicated by the report, to ensure compliance with the prohibitions against the transfer of items having potential military application in Myanmar against civilians.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Dr Vivian Balakrishnan): Speaker, we note that many of the assertions made by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar pertains to economic activities which pre-date the February 2021 military coup. It is also worth emphasising that before the military coup, there was a legitimate government in Myanmar whom we fully recognised and whom we had constructive, comprehensive relations with.
Specifically on military sales, I want to quote former Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo when he answered the question in 2007 on whether Singapore has supplied arms to Myanmar. He said: “As far as defence sales are concerned, it is established policy of the Government not to divulge details publicly. Myanmar is not subject to any UN arms embargo. If there is any UN sanction against Myanmar, Singapore will of course abide by it. Nevertheless, I can say that over the years, defence sales to Myanmar have not been substantial and have always been carefully limited to items that are not suitable for countering civilian unrest. There have not been any defence sales to Myanmar in recent years and, going forward, we will continue to behave in a responsible manner.”
This statement was made by Mr Yeo in 2007 and he said that there had not been any defence sales for some years. Today, 16 years later, this position still stands.
Singapore complies strictly with our international obligations on international arms sales and transfers, as well as UN sanctions and embargoes against any country. On the declaration of arms exports, Singapore submits regular reports to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA). In June 2021, Singapore also voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 75/287 entitled “The Situation in Myanmar”. This resolution called on the UN member states to “prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar”.
Whilst UN General Assembly resolutions are not strictly legally binding, nevertheless the Government has decided to prohibit the transfer of arms to Myanmar. We also decided not to authorise the transfer of dual-use items which have been assessed to have potential military application to Myanmar, where there is a serious risk that they may be used to inflict violence against unarmed civilians.
We will not hesitate to take action against those who contravene our laws, including Singapore’s Strategic Goods (Control) Act which controls the transfer and brokering of strategic goods and technology.
Singapore remains committed to working with the fellow ASEAN member states and UN member states to facilitate peace and national reconciliation in Myanmar. I can only hope this comes sooner rather than later.
Mr Speaker: Mr Dennis Tan.
Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong (Hougang): I thank the Minister for the reply. I have two supplementary questions. First, I would like to ask the Minister what checks were carried out after the allegations were made in the special report in respect of Singapore companies?
And secondly, what measures are put in place by the Government to check on Singapore companies on a regular basis in respect of their compliance or does the Government only follow up when there is a feedback or complaint on any non-compliance?
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: On the first supplementary question on what checks were made, I looked at the assertions of the Special Advisory Council. As I said, in fact, most of those assertions go way back in time – some, more than 20 years ago. So, within the limited access which I have now after two decades, what I can say, looking at Mr George Yeo’s response is that we have maintained that same position and therefore, there have been no defence sales for a very long time. We are talking more than a decade, decade and a half.
Specifically to the Member’s second question of what is our current regime, as I explained just now, although the UN General Assembly resolution is not legally binding, we have taken a decision to effect a ban on the sale and transfer of arms. And you must remember that that also includes the transshipment of arms. This is effected legally through our Strategic Goods (Control) Act. And that means we go through every submission of an import/export. If clearly there are military items there, we are going to flag up a red flag. But we have even gone beyond that. Where they are dual-use items, civilian items – but which in our judgement would also pose risks to unarmed civilians, we will also flag a red flag.
So, I am informing you and I am also putting all companies on notice that we are taking a very firm line on this. I think Members in this House will share our sympathy for the unarmed civilians in Myanmar and we want to make sure that nothing we do aggravates the situation there. I am sure this is something which enjoys the Member’s support and that of the Member’s party as well.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
14 February 2023