Guest Column

Future of Korea and Myanmar: A Win-Win for Peace and Prosperity

By Lee Sang-hwa  30 August 2019

The President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, will visit Myanmar in the coming days. From the outset, President Moon has underlined his strong solidarity with ASEAN and pledged to visit all its members during his term of office. His upcoming state visit will mark the conclusion of his engagements in all ASEAN countries and aim to solidify the already friendly relations between the two countries. This will be the first state visit in seven years by a Korean President to Myanmar. 2020 will mark the 45th anniversary of Korea-Myanmar diplomatic relations.

Korea’s priority in terms of strengthening relations with Myanmar and the broader ASEAN community is unprecedented, as reflected through various initiatives such as the New Southern Policy, the flagship initiative of the Korean government. Soon, Korea and ASEAN will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their dialogue relations. In November, the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit and Mekong-ROK Summit will further strengthen this significant partnership.

Regarding Korea’s bilateral relations with Myanmar, opportunities abound for a win-win partnership and almost half a century of diplomatic relations have solidified strong foundations. As State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has highlighted, Myanmar is the last frontier market in ASEAN, and is attracting a large number of Korean companies. Korea, with its dynamic K-pop culture and development know-how, is an optimal partner for Myanmar’s sustainable growth.

Korea and Myanmar share goals of peace-oriented and people-centered prosperity. This is reflected in the shared values underpinning Korea’s New Southern Policy and Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP).  President Moon’s visit will aim to build on this by seizing opportunities for  practical cooperation on peace and prosperity that benefit all people.

President Moon will engage the State Counselor and President U Win Myint in support of “people-centered” development of Myanmar. Korea will strongly back Myanmar’s endeavor for advanced higher education, fight against illiteracy, and better Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). There are already plenty of positive signals between the Myanmar and Korean people. With the growing popularity of Korean culture in Myanmar, Myanmar people love listening to K-pop and enjoy watching K-dramas. More and more Myanmar people have been learning the Korean language.

Myanmar’s culture has also become widely known to the Korean people, as many famous Korean TV shows, such as “The Law of The Jungle” and “Battle Trip” were recently filmed in Myanmar. In addition, visa exemptions for Korean tourists is another determining factor in boosting the number of Korean tourists coming to Myanmar. The number of annual Korean visitors to Myanmar is expected to exceed 100,000 this year for the first time.

One of the similarities both countries share is complicated geopolitical location. As such, both countries are working around the clock to achieve greater peace and stability. The Korean government’s peace effort is anchored in its unswerving conviction that the Korean people should be the architects of their own destiny. Scenarios that seemed impossible in the past have come to fruition. Myanmar has always been welcome to support Korea’s effort to bring permanent peace in the Korean peninsula. As both countries deeply understand the value of hard-earned progress in the course of their respective peace processes, the upcoming visit will serve as an opportunity for the two countries’ peace processes to resonate even more.

Last but not least, the upcoming visit of President Moon will bear visible outcomes on the pillar of prosperity. Myanmar, with its broad territory; young population (median age 28); and abundant natural resources, has complementary strengths vis-à-vis Korea. Besides, it has potential to become a geo-economic hub between the Indian and the Pacific oceans. In this respect, President Moon during his visit will place great focus on helping build institutional infrastructure to enhance bilateral economic cooperation such as the Korea Desk, which is designed to provide a one-stop service to incoming Korean investors. The Korea-Myanmar Industrial Complex (KMIC) will have its inauguration ceremony during the state visit. Once operational, KMIC will provide strong momentum to facilitate investment by Korean companies in Myanmar.

As the Korean Ambassador to Myanmar, I am quite sure that the state visit of President Moon will become a milestone in the development of bilateral relations between the two countries. I am also confident that the visit will offer great momentum to forge a win-win partnership toward co-prosperity in terms of the three pillars of the New Southern Policy.

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