Guest Column

The Fight Against COVID-19 Can Promote Unity and Peace

By Lee Sang-hwa  1 April 2020

On March 26, G20 leaders issued an extraordinary summit statement confirming that the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and vulnerabilities. They underscored that global action, solidarity and international cooperation are key in addressing this untold challenge.

Though the magnitude of this scourge is overwhelming, the international community will overcome this if we work together closely. As every cloud has a silver lining, an opportunity may even arise from this crisis. As often witnessed in history, cooperation in challenging times can become a new driver for unity, solidarity and peace.

As G20 leaders stated, we need to strengthen capacity building and technical assistance, especially for at-risk countries and communities. On the 101st anniversary of the Republic of Korea’s March 1st Independence Movement Day, President Moon Jae-in said in his address that the lives of the Korean people will be safer when the two Koreas can respond together to infectious diseases, and stressed the importance of cross-border cooperation.

The Korean government is also extending its cooperation to other countries in need. As WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has noted, Korea has developed innovative strategies for tracing, testing and treating COVID-19 cases, and a number of virus-hit countries are trying to apply lessons learned from Korea.

For its part, the Korean Embassy in Myanmar donated personal protective equipment, including 5,000 test kits, to Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports on March 24. Such an example of health sector cooperation demonstrates that the horizon of partnership between Korea and Myanmar has expanded, as this year marks the 45th anniversary of our diplomatic relationship.

Fighting against COVID-19 can play a pivotal role in enhancing national solidarity and even in facilitating endeavors to promote the peace process in Myanmar. As the State Counsellor emphasized, the people are the key to addressing this pandemic. In Korea, rallying public support for social distancing and density reduction has been crucial in bringing about a significant decline in the numbers of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Additionally, ethnic armed groups in Myanmar reportedly showed interest in receiving assistance from the government if the situation gets worse. In fact, “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 session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference. This is a reminder that health sector cooperation between the government and ethnic armed groups can serve as a catalyst in advancing Myanmar’s peace process.

Let us recall that in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the United Nations helped bring international aid to disaster-torn Myanmar. Back then, amid enormous hardship, the international community perceived the potential for dramatic change. In difficult times, even in the face of differences, what we need is to strive for a positive attitude and look to the larger interests of the people.

As President Moon Jae-in and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shared at their two summit meetings last year, Korea and Myanmar have a lot in common, historically and emotionally. Though different in nature, our two countries are both actively pursuing a peace process. Fighting against COVID-19 can promote inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. It can also accelerate Myanmar’s peace process. Through working together closely at a bilateral and multilateral level, this unity of purpose between our two countries will further deepen and broaden our win-win partnership.

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

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