Why It Matters

Singapore's growing ties with Myanmar

Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong (left) meets with State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi on June 7.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Links between Singapore and Myanmar go back a long way: Both countries have a shared colonial heritage and, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out last week during his three-day visit, even the same urban planner. Ties have spanned nearly 200 years, he noted.

And his visit, the first by a head of government since Myanmar's new civilian government was elected last November, was aimed at keeping the relationship firmly on course well into the future.

One constant in this process has been connectivity: travel, business and people-to-people ties.

There is a sizeable community of some 200,000 people from Myanmar studying or working and contributing in many fields here. Many return home but maintain strong ties to Singapore. Singaporeans and businesses, too, are a strong and common presence in Myanmar.

And as the country opens up and liberalises its economy further, the opportunities for people and companies from both sides can only improve. Hence the importance of several announcements during Mr Lee's visit, such as the lifting of visa requirements from Dec 1 this year for ordinary passport holders who make trips of up to 30 days.

That will be a boon not just for those with family and friends based here or in Myanmar, but also for the tourism sector and related businesses. Singapore hopes its airlines will also be allowed to have stopover flights between Changi and multiple cities in Myanmar.

The launch of a new training institute and sponsored internship programmes will contribute to developing a new generation of skilled workers and trainers in the country. There are also hopes for an updated Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and talks on a bilateral investment treaty - all aimed at making it easier for companies to operate there.

Such developments, coupled with Myanmar's continuing and fuller integration as part of the Asean family, will be welcome news for all those who wish to see a stable, growing and prosperous Myanmar, whose relationship with Singapore and the wider region lasts well into the future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Growing ties with Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe