Minister For Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Live Interview on Channel 5’s News Tonight, on 1 March 2021

02 March 2021

Glenda Chong (presenter)So, what is ASEAN hoping to achieve from tomorrow's foreign ministers’ meeting?


Minister: Well tomorrow's meeting is significant. It is the first time the foreign ministers are getting together, and we will listen to the representative from the Myanmar military to get his side of the account. As I said earlier, we must engage in honest, open dialogue, and we need constructive platforms. This will be a very important test tomorrow.


Glenda Chong: With the situation in Myanmar as it is, do you think it warrants international help on top of ASEAN?


Minister: Well, let me put it to you this way. We are gravely concerned with the situation in Myanmar. We are appalled by the violence, and we will say that tomorrow. But ultimately the solution lies within Myanmar itself. All the stakeholders - in this case it means the military and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor - need to sit down and have frank conversation and negotiate in good faith. The rest of us can help. We can create conducive platforms, but we cannot interfere, and I think respecting that division is critical.


Glenda Chong: Well, I want to pick up on this interference, because the ASEAN countries are guided by this principle of non-interference. But how is the situation in Myanmar impacting this then?


Minister: Well first I would say that instability in Myanmar, ultimately, creates danger for the rest of us in Southeast Asia. So it is not a purely Myanmar situation alone. Although, as I said, the responsibility for resolving this lies with the authorities in Myanmar and right now there are two poles. There is the political leadership, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from the NLD and there is the military leadership, on the other hand. They need to talk, and we need to help bring them together.


Glenda Chong: How are we going to do that?


Minister: By being frank with them. By telling the military exactly how we feel about it, and to remind them that, ultimately this coup will cause grievous damage to Myanmar, the society and the economy. Look, in the last five years, the bulk of foreign investments went in because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, because of the transition to democracy. This setback will have grievous harm to the economic development and, of course, the social and political development within Myanmar itself. Ultimately instability in any corner of Southeast Asia threatens and affects the rest of us. It is such a pity because in fact, the prospects for Myanmar were bright. The prospects for Southeast Asia are robust in the next 20 to 30 years and we need to seize this opportunity, and not let this political strife in Myanmar, with all its attendant violence, and negative consequences for its people, distract and disrupt us from the future that is awaiting all of us in Southeast Asia.


Glenda Chong: Minister, I want to move away from Myanmar, and I want to talk about the subject of COVID-19. So, help us understand, has the COVAX scheme made good progress in its aid to ensure fair access to vaccines for all?


Minister: Well, first of all, it has (made progress), because there are multiple vaccine candidates and the target is for COVAX to deliver two billion doses by the end of the year. The bulk of which will go to lower income or lower-middle-income countries. So far, about a million doses have already been delivered to Africa, and I would expect this to roll out progressively over the next few months. Singapore was an early supporter of COVAX, because nobody is safe until everyone is safe. We do need equitable access, we do need universal access to vaccines, particularly for the vulnerable segments of populations all over the world. We have never faced this situation and we have never had this facility. I think we are making incredible progress, certainly on the vaccine front.


Glenda Chong: Alright, thank you very much Minister for coming in and speaking to us. I have been speaking with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Affairs Minister. 


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