Petition calls for removal of Yale-NUS Governing Board Chair over alleged business ties to Myanmar regime

It has gathered over 2,230 signatures out of its target of 2,500.

Kayla Wong | May 06, 2021, 10:49 AM

Advocacy group Justice for Myanmar has started a petition calling on the tertiary institution Yale-NUS to remove its Governing Board Director, Kay Kuok Oon Kwong, over alleged business ties to the Myanmar junta.

Alleged links to Myanmar's military

The petition has garnered slightly more than 2,230 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, May 5, which is a few hundred signatures away from its target of 2,500.

The group pointed out that Kuok, who is the niece of Malaysia's richest man Robert Kuok, is the director of Traders Square, the developer of Myanmar's Sule Square mall and office tower.

Justice for Myanmar, which has been putting pressure on corporations for alleged business dealings with the military government, further said the mall opened on land leased from the quartermaster general of the Myanmar army, citing findings from a 2019 report submitted to the Human Rights Council.

The quartermaster general is a senior military officer that is supposedly in charge of "purchasing the weapons used in the military's crimes", the group alleged.

Kuok is also the Director of Kuok (Singapore) Limited. The Kuok Group of Companies owns the worldwide chain of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which operates Sule Square.

Yale-NUS President: Kuok's role as Governing Board Chair "distinct" from business dealings

Justice for Myanmar's spokesperson Yadanar Maung told Yale Daily News, a daily college newspaper published by Yale University students, that Kuok's real estate venture "finances" a military that is "responsible for international crimes including genocide against the Rohingya", and also "creates a lucrative future asset" for them.

Maung also disagreed with Yale-NUS President Tan Tai Yong's statement that Kuok's role at Yale-NUS College's Governing Board is appointed by Singapore's Ministry of Education, and is "voluntary" and "distinct" from her group's business dealings.

She said:

"Allowing Kay Kuok to continue as the Chair of the Governing Board sends a clear message to the people of Myanmar that Yale condones Kay Kuok’s complicity in the murder, rape and torture that is enabled by business ventures such as Shangri-La."

Yale-NUS held dialogue between students and Kuok

Tan also said in his statement to Yale Daily News that the college is "deeply saddened by and concerned about the situation in Myanmar", and is aware of the "views being shared online regarding Mdm Kay Kuok's business dealings".

"We have been in close communication with Mdm Kuok, members of our Governing Board as well as our institutional stakeholders regarding this matter," he said.

He also said the college has facilitated a "dialogue" between Kuok and Yale-NUS students.

Yale-NUS spokesperson Jeannie Tay said it was a "closed door meeting" where students were able to directly ask Kuok questions.

Kuok said to have sympathised with Myanmar people

In addition, Tan said Kuok had expressed "deep affinity with and sympathy for" the Myanmar people during the meeting.

In his statement, Tan added that Kuok said "her Group's business interests entered Myanmar with the long-term aim and commitment of helping to build their economy, provide long-term and sustainable employment, and to continue with the ongoing community and public welfare initiatives that were started".

Mothership has reached out to Yale-NUS for comment.

Asean calls for violence to cease in Myanmar

Myanmar's junta chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, following an Asean Leaders' Meeting held at Jakarta on Apr. 24, which he also attended, said the military would consider the "constructive suggestions" made by other Asean state leaders when "stability" returns to the country.

Most recently, in a joint statement issued after their discussion on Sunday, May 2, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart, Hishammuddin Hussein, agreed it was "important" for Asean to continue playing "a positive and constructive role in facilitating a durable and peaceful solution in the interest of the people of Myanmar".

They also stressed the importance of following up on the Chairman's Statement and the "five-point consensus", which includes an "immediate cessation of violence" in Myanmar, as well as a visit by the special envoy and delegation to Myanmar to meet with parties concerned.

Since the military crackdown on protesters in the wake of the Feb. 1 coup, more than 760 civilians had been killed, according to rights group The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Top image adapted via Getty Images &