S'pore and Myanmar share historical links

Mr Lee meeting Myanmar President Htin Kyaw in Naypyitaw yesterday. Mr Lee noted that the peoples of Singapore and Myanmar have kept up the countries' historical links and grown closer.
Mr Lee meeting Myanmar President Htin Kyaw in Naypyitaw yesterday. Mr Lee noted that the peoples of Singapore and Myanmar have kept up the countries' historical links and grown closer.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Singapore and Myanmar may have established diplomatic ties 50 years ago, but their historical links go much further back - and the proof is in their city maps.

Both countries share a British colonial heritage and an urban planner: Dr William Montgomerie, a British surgeon whom Sir Stamford Raffles appointed to help plan the growing city of Singapore.

When Dr Montgomerie moved to Rangoon, now called Yangon, he helped to design downtown Rangoon's iconic checkerboard layout.

"So while Singapore's streets are not a perfect checkerboard like those in downtown Rangoon, the waterfronts in both cities are dominated by important municipal buildings," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Nearly 200 years later, the peoples of both countries have kept up the links and grown closer, he said in a speech that highlighted the ties between Singapore and Myanmar and signalled closer cooperation between them.

Mr Lee noted that many of the 200,000 Myanmar nationals in Singapore contribute to the society, while many others have returned to contribute to their homeland.

He cited several individuals, including a scientist-turned-teacher, a lawyer and even an orchestra conductor, in his speech at a dinner banquet hosted by Myanmar President Htin Kyaw in the Naypyitaw presidential palace.

One of them, Ms Myo Thida, studied in Singapore for six years on a research scholarship and worked in the country for five years before returning home to join Myanmar's Education Ministry.

She is now vice-principal of the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute, which Mr Lee will officially open tomorrow.

Singaporeans and Singapore businesses also have a presence in Myanmar, said Mr Lee, who will meet some of them at a reception in Yangon today.

One such business is Keppel Land, which built the Sedona Hotels in Yangon and Mandalay in the 1990s, contributing to Myanmar's tourism industry.

Similarly, lighting firm Krislite has been in Myanmar since the 1990s. It has provided lighting for infrastructure in Yangon and stadiums in Naypyitaw, among others.

These were used for Myanmar's hosting of the 27th SEA Games in 2013, noted Mr Lee.

The no-visa rule from Dec 1, announced yesterday, will "make it easier for both sides to visit each other", he said.

The visa exemption comes amid a rise in weekly flights between Singapore and Myanmar's two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay.

The number of weekly flights has gone up from 44 in January to 49 last month.

The number of Myanmar tourists to Singapore has also risen - by 12 per cent from 2011 to last year, a yearly climb of 3 per cent. Last year, 105,452 Myanmar citizens visited Singapore.

Meanwhile, 45,125 Singapore tourists visited Myanmar last year, said Myanmar's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

At the dinner, Mr Lee also noted the links between the governments of the two countries.

For instance, when Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008, Singapore immediately sent relief and reconstruction aid to the victims, he said.

The relief team included MP and doctor Fatimah Lateef, who ran mobile clinics in a township east of Yangon River. She is in the Singapore delegation now in Myanmar.

Officials of both countries also visit each other regularly to exchange views. Over 12,600 Myanmar officials have attended training courses under schemes such as the Singapore Cooperation Programme.

Mr Lee ended his speech, to applause, with a toast to "the next chapter of flourishing ties between Myanmar and Singapore".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore and Myanmar share historical links'. Print Edition | Subscribe