Guest Column

Corporate Responsibility Is an Integral Part of Korean Investment in Myanmar

By Lee Sang-hwa  29 April 2020

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is the mantra widely shared by Korean entrepreneurs investing in Myanmar. This rule of thumb also strikes a chord with the tenets of the “New Southern Policy,” the Korean government’s flagship diplomatic initiative, which seeks to elevate the partnership with the ASEAN region to a whole new level. During the two summit meetings between President Moon Jae-in and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in September and November 2019, the two leaders agreed that Korean investors and Myanmar workers in Korea are good-will ambassadors. In truth, they are the bridge builders who bring the two countries closer together.

Paradoxically, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has opened a new chapter for Korea-Myanmar cooperation, as the two countries mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations. At the ASEAN Plus Three special summit conference on COVID-19 on April 14, the leaders renewed their commitment to enhancing investment in human development. In fact, Korea and Myanmar see eye-to-eye that the smartest investment is to empower people, particularly in the health and education sector. The Myanmar government recognizes the important role that health-sector cooperation plays in promoting unity and peace. “Establishing a universal health coverage system that is accessible to all and is all-inclusive” was a part of the 14-point Union Accord from the 3rd Panglong Union Peace Conference.

While the government and people of Myanmar are mobilizing all their resources in the fight against COVID-19, Korean entrepreneurs are rolling up their sleeves to stand by their friends and partners. A number of Korean investors have made valuable contributions in providing medical supplies such as test kits and other personal protective equipment (PPE). “Korea proves the time-honored proverb; A friend in need is a friend indeed.” This is the comment from a netizen in reply to a recent hand-over ceremony of Korea’s test kits. It is encouraging to see how deeply such donations resonate with the Myanmar people. It is more encouraging to see that a growing number of Korean enterprises are making CSR (corporate social responsibility) an integral part of their investment in Myanmar. This has become the hallmark of Korean investment. In turn, this makes Korea and Myanmar natural partners in forging a win-win cooperation.

When I was working at the UN back in 2010, the organization commemorated the 10th anniversary of the UN Global Compact. The Global Compact was embarked upon to encourage investors and businessmen to live up to sustainable growth that will bring both profits and social advancement simultaneously. At the Global Compact Leaders Summit in 2010, participants and stakeholders reaffirmed that businesses must move away from their devotion to short-term profit; the private sector must go further in embracing long-term value creation, and ethical culture must be embedded into business practices. As 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of UN Global Compact, corporate responsibility has become the byword for companies across the world. It is heartening that Myanmar, according to the UN Global Compact official website, is the country with the biggest number of subscribed companies to the Compact in the ASEAN region.

Korean companies will continue to make responsible and smart investments. In doing so, they will serve as a catalyst in bringing our two countries closer than ever before.

Lee Sang-hwa is the ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Myanmar.

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