Singapore received a stinging, albeit friendly criticism from Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who reminded one of the world’s richest countries that there are greater goals to achieve in life than wealth.
Suu Kyi attended a leadership summit in Singapore where she discussed, among other things, the reforms her party is envisioning for Myanmar. But during the press forum Suu Kyi spoke her mind on Singapore’s impressive economic growth.
“One gets used to thinking of Singapore as a financial, a commercial city, where people are more intent on business and money than human relations,” said Suu Kyi in her opening remarks. “But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised that there is a lot of human warmth going around this place.”
She was cautious in praising the efficiency of Singaporean institutions. For instance, she described Singapore’s education system as “workforce oriented.”
Suu Kyi added: “That made me think. What is work all about? What are human beings for? What are human lives about?”
She wanted Myanmar to “learn” from the Singapore model instead of “recreating” it. She said, “I want to learn a lot from the standards that Singapore has been able to achieve but I wonder whether we want something more for our country.”
Suu Kyi also urged Singapore to learn from the experience of Myanmar: “So I think perhaps Singapore could learn from us, a more relaxed way of life, perhaps warmer and closer relationships.”
Perhaps Suu Kyi has not yet forgotten that Singapore remained an active trading partner and friendly neighbor to Myanmar during the reign of the Junta. Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew even expressed more confidence in the Burmese Army as the only institution “keeping the country stable and preventing civil war.” He also doubted the ability of Suu Kyi “to govern if ever she came to power.”
Nevertheless, Suu Kyi’s remarks were welcomed by many Singaporeans. For writer Bertha Henson, it’s time for Singapore to do some “furious thinking and soul searching.”
She wrote: “Are we just a money-grubbing nation, efficiently churning out digits for the future workplace? Are we all about the Central Business District skyline? Is that really how other people see us? As calculative individuals who do not put much stock in human relationships?”
Blogger Xuyun reminded Singapore’s leaders to go beyond the GDP in measuring the quality of life: “Aung San Suu Kyi simply pricked the bubble of our materialistic minds, exposing our emptiness beyond that magnificent façade which we built our self-esteem on and from which defines our success. GDP) should not be pursued to the extent of reducing quality of life for the majority of the people in the process. And GDP alone does not define the spirit and the soul of a nation.”
Singapore is far ahead of Myanmar in almost every indicator of human and economic development, but Suu Kyi has a point when she pressed the Lion City to aim for a broader definition of progress and development.