(Pix source: Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Singapore is truly pragmatic in its foreign policy. The Straits Times on April 3 played up the story that Myanmar is offering to be a long-term supplier of sand and other key building materials to Singapore.
But what has not been analysed is the expected balance of benefits in such a deal with a rogue state like Myanmar. Sand is no basic commodity in Singapore. Singapore needs plenty of land sand for its construction sector and an equally substantial amount of sea sand for its on-going land reclamation works to enlarge the physical island. But it is in short supply in Singapore following the ban on the sale of land and sea sand to Singapore by traditional suppliers Malaysia and Indonesia in the last decade. Please see earlier postings.
Therefore, Singapore is likely to take up the Myanmar offer, which is likely to come at a premium. It's probably a done deal. Diplomats don't make such announcements unless they are quite certain of the outcome.
What will Myanmar want in return? According to the Singapore MFA statement, Lieutenant-General Thein Sein, First Secretary of Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council, "encouraged" more Singapore companies to invest in Myanmar.
We can definitely expect some big Singapore investments flowing to Myanmar as part of the quid pro quo with the junta regime. What is conspicuously absent in the short news report is Myanmar's status as a pariah state and the political implications of the sand deal. Singapore Patriot has mentioned some of the things I wanted to say.
Will the Myanmar sand deal be awkward for Asean? The deal with Myanmar is also coming at a time when Singapore will assume the Asean chairmanship in August this year. The grouping still can't agree on a right approach to deal with junta regime, which has hijacked democracy and refused to free iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Is Singapore acting purely on its self interest, or will it be enlightened enough to use the opportunity to convince the Myanmar generals to release Aung with promises of a balance of benefits?
If successful, Singapore will earn plenty of brownie points in the international arena. It would achieve what former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and others failed to accomplish.