(Interview) – Ko Ko Hlaing, the chief of President Thein Sein’s advisory group, says the visit of Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam is an example of countries taking more interest in investing in Burma. The Singapore FM arrived in Rangoon on Monday for a three-day economic fact-finding visit. On Wednesday, he will likely meet with President Thein Sein, the foreign minister, the chief justice, and the USDP party general-secretary. Singapore is the sixth largest investor in Burma. Mizzima reporter Tun Tun interviewed Ko Ko Hlaing after the presidential advisory group met with Shanmugam.
Q: What were the main points of the discussion with the Singapore foreign minister and the presidential advisory group?
A: The Singapore FM’s visit to Burma is his introductory visit. He wants to study firsthand the development and changes in Burma, and he is interested in the economic opportunities and the political stability here.
Q: So it’s an economic fact-gathering tour rather than politics?
A: Those two are inseparable. Economics can be done [well] only after getting political stability. He also wanted to know about the concreteness of the law reforms in our country because he is a law scholar. So he had a few questions to us on all these topics.
Q: What is Singapore’s opinion on the changes and reforms in Burma?
A: Like other Asean-member countries, Singapore welcomes and recognizes the development, changes and reforms in Burma. He also said that he was interested in mutual cooperation in the changing situation, with emerging and booming opportunities. He pledged to us that Singapore was ready to give assistance, if needed. Singapore’s economy is based on the service industry. So they are interested in investing in the hotel and tourism industry here. And they are also interested in the transport business, manufacturing industry, the Dawei deep-sea port and other areas. They are also interested in the agricultural sector too. They want to invest in all possible sectors with their surplus money.
Q: Some observers have said that the recent visits by ministers and prime ministers from foreign countries were for their national interests only. How do you see that as a presidential adviser?
A: Yes, it’s true. All foreign relations by any country are based on self-interest, but nowadays countries are working on win-win situations with benefits for both sides. Countries are now doing more activities in areas that will have mutual benefits. So if they come here for the national interests of their countries, we must cooperate with them in areas where we have our own national interests too.
Q: Since the Western economic sanctions were put in place, some countries have noted that Singapore was a location for money laundering from Burma. How will enhanced economic cooperation with Singapore affect that situation?
A: In fact, the position of Burma in international relations has already changed absolutely. Under these new circumstances and the changing situation, the past irregular relations between our two countries due to the economic sanctions will disappear eventually. Everyone sees Burma now as a country that can keep abreast with other countries in world society. As an economically advanced country, Singapore is in position to provide a contribution to the development of our country.
Q: Some people have suggested that environmental and labour laws should be enacted before a lot of foreign investment comes into the country. What laws should be created to better prepare for major foreign investment?
A: We are doing all these things. We are doing this in cooperation with the parliamentary bodies and the ministries concerned. For instance, in the areas of investment law, company law, anti-trust law, economic laws, and also we are drafting the necessary laws to conserve our natural environment.
We are also working on special laws for sustainable development in special economic zones. Our legislative institutions have already been engaged, and they will study these issues and do the necessary work. Also, the media is pointing out these issues and all of us are studying and analyzing these things as we tackle the work.