YANGON - Singapore is rolling out a series of measures to help Myanmar, which has the potential to power the economies of South- east Asia in years to come.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is leading a high-level delegation to the country, made this point after three days of meetings with Myanmar's top officials, including President Thein Sein.
In a bid to draw jobs, the country has thrown its doors open to foreign investment and is working feverishly to introduce new investment laws and modernise its very basic banking system. Singapore will offer whatever technical aid it needs to get there, Mr Goh told reporters yesterday in Yangon.
'If Myanmar takes off, Myanmar becomes the new powerful boy on the block,' he said.
If it grows by 8 per cent to 10 per cent annually over the next 10 years, he said, 'Asean would be a very powerful regional economy' and an integrated one at that.
This is Singapore's 'macro strategy' to help the entire Asean economy prosper, he said.
Once the richest country in South-east Asia, Myanmar is re-entering the world economy as it emerges from decades of military rule and crippling global sanctions. It recently fast-tracked economic and political reforms.
A team from the Monetary Authority of Singapore has met its counterpart in Myanmar to see how it can provide training and help develop commercial banking capabilities.
Internet connectivity is another area where Singapore could help, said Mr Goh.
Myanmar's online access is currently slow and patchy, which is not conducive for companies wanting to set up there. Mr Goh said Singapore could devise a connectivity plan for the entire country, and Myanmar's government could then invite tenders to lay down Internet infrastructure based on this plan.
Myanmar's officials are also keen to get Singapore's help to invest in and develop industrial parks and special economic zones.
Finally, Myanmar wants aid from Singapore to develop its public housing. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is part of the delegation, said Singapore's housing officials 'are trying to put ourselves in their shoes' to see what strategy would work best to provide cheap basic housing for them.
Mr Khaw will be the key person in Singapore's Cabinet coordinating and managing Singapore's relationship with Myanmar, said Mr Goh.
International Enterprise Singapore, a trade promotion body, will set up an office in Yangon by October to help Singapore businesses wanting to enter the market.
Mr Goh said the Myanmar government is aware that it has a limited capacity to implement all the changes it needs to catch up with its neighbours.
'There is a danger that they may stall because they have to do so many things at one time, to please so many sectors, to cater to the needs of so many investors from all over the world, making demands on them.'
But he was 'cautiously optimistic' and urged other countries to give the country the lift it needs.
Myanmar is also grappling with spiralling unrest in its western Rakhine state, where ethnic violence has forced the government to declare a state of emergency and threatens to upset its tentative democratic reforms.
Mr Goh described the current situation as 'tragic' but thinks it would not derail its democratisation efforts nor undermine investor confidence.
'The government over here understands very clearly that what is happening over there must be handled firmly, transparently and fairly,' he said. 'It is one corner of Myanmar, and Myanmar is a very big place.'
Tiny Singapore, on the other hand, has no such luxury of space and needs to keep close tabs on possible ethnic tensions.
'What happens in Changi affects the whole of Singapore. In Singapore there is no such thing as one corner. Therefore... we are very careful.'