50 Years of Friendship – Myanmar & Singapore

Mervin Wong

Mervin Wong
National University of Singapore

While flexing military and economic muscle can yield the most dramatic changes, a nation’s soft power can achieve more worthwhile outcomes.
— Monocle Soft Power Survey 2015/16

2016 marks the year that Myanmar and Singapore, two ASEAN member countries, celebrate 50 years of amicable bilateral diplomacy. Singapore’s embassy in Yangon commemorates this joyous occasion through two highlight orchestra performances in Nay Pyi Daw, a collaboration involving musicians and institutions from both countries, such as composer/conductor Dr Chen Zhangyi, conductor/arranger Saw James, and violin soloist San Win Htike along with a combined ensemble with musicians from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM), Attachment of Clouds Orchestra (AOC), and a traditional Myanmar saing waing ensemble from the Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV).


The healthy signs of both nation’s diplomatic relations with each other is evident within the subtleties of the well crafted programme: Dr Chen Zhangyi’s violin concerto performed by San Win Htike and Saw James’ specially arranged and orchestrated pieces of Singaporean and Myanmar local folk and popular tunes such as “We Are Singapore”. San Win Htike and Saw James are both alumnus of the YSTCM, having received full scholarships and successfully graduated from the Singaporean conservatory. This also signifies the important role that YSTCM plays in the diplomacy of the nation within ASEAN, especially as the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN is forecasted for the year of 2017.

The glorious event in Nay Pyi Daw’s Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC) on 22 August 2016 was graced by dignitaries from both nations, most notably State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr Robert Chua, the Singapore Ambassador to Myanmar. Since assuming her position as State Counsellor, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has been paving a new path for the Republic of the Union of Myanmar through re-establishing proactive diplomacy with nations internationally. Her tenacity evident from her speech at Oxford (2012) “Burma is at the beginning of a road. It is not the sort of road that you find in England: it is not smooth; it is not well-maintained; in fact, it is not yet there. It is a road that we will have to carve out for ourselves. This is a road that we will have to build as we go along.” As a nation that prides itself in engineering its own economic miracle, Singapore has much to share with Myanmar.

The contingent of musicians from YSTCM consisted largely of first year representatives. This was certainly an eye-opening experience to the young musicians from both nations, to witness  first hand how the power of art is able to strengthen bonds and pave the way for future opportunities. There is an inherent co-relation between art and soft power. Singapore certainly recognises this, apparent in its 2015 launch of the largest Southeast Asian collection housed in the National Gallery Singapore. Palpably, this harmony would extend a bridge for young musicians and artists between both nations.

I would like our young people to know what it is to feel that the world belongs to them and they belong to the world. To be able to stand at the threshold of full adulthood in full confidence that they will be able to do their best for the world and in the belief that the world also wants to do the best for them.
— Ms Aung San Suu Kyi
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