Rebuttal misses the mark
SCMP December 26 2005
Hong Kong does not have any progress on democracy, yet at least it still has
a free and plural media. So we hope there is no truth in the rumour that the
intelligent, independent Hong Kong Economic Journal might be bought by our
favourite oligarchs - or by anyone more interested in ingratiating themselves
with the political powers than in serving the readers' desire for knowledge
We must be grateful for small mercies. At least the Li Ka-shing family controls
very much less than the Lee Kuan Yew family in Singapore (the list is too long
to fit here), or the Kim Il-sung family in North Korea.
It must be a hard life for a diplomat representing either of those
regimes - though at least the Singaporeans are well paid for putting
their names to nonsense. A few weeks back I wrote a column for this
newspaper which attracted the usual "rebuttal" from a Singapore
official. Unfortunately, the official author seemed not to have read
the piece. He sent his complaint to the other English-language newspaper
My last column drew attention, among other things, to Singapore's
links to Myanmar's generals and drug lords. The "rebuttal" by
Consul-General Toh Hock Ghim consisted of denying information that
had appeared in 1988 in the Far Eastern Economic Review, and which
I never quoted.
He also "rebutted" another claim to which I had made no
reference - one by Singapore opposition activist Chee Soon Juan.
What I actually referred to was something that appeared a decade after
the Review article - the work of well-known Australian academic Desmond
Ball, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian
National University, on the issues of Myanmar's arms and drug-money
links with Singapore. After looking at Mr Ball's work, Mr Toh might
then turn to that of Andrew Selth.
He is a former diplomat who is now a senior official at Australia's
Office of National Assessments, the nation's top intelligence-analysis
body. In a previous capacity he was the author, under the pen name
William Ashton, of an account of defence alliances and links that appeared
There is, in fact, quite a lot of literature on defence tie-ups. One
Reuters article quotes Jane's about Chartered Industries - owned by
the Singapore government - providing a small-arms factory to the regime
Mr Toh demands evidence of the "very serious allegation" of
Singapore being used to launder illegal money.
He should ask the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Robert Gelbard,
the former US assistant secretary of state for international narcotics,
said in 1997 that much of Singapore's investment in Myanmar had been "tied
to the family of [Myanmese] narco-trafficker Lo Hsing Han".
Mr Lo's son, Steven Law, is banned from the United Staes, but is persona
grata in Singapore, where his Asia World Group has many connections.
While many drug mules get strung up every year in Singapore, the masterminds
carry on making their fortunes.
And why not? Even in bureaucrat-run Singapore, money still talks louder
than proclaimed principles.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Devan Nair, president of
Singapore 1981-1985, who died in exile in Canada on December 7
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