A Memorable Train Journey to Celebrate Thirty Years of ASEAN-Korea Friendship

  • By Professor Chaw Chaw Sein, Ph.D. (University of Yangon)
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Participants pose at the launching ceremony for the ASEAN-Korea Train at Seoul Station in Seoul on Oct. 16, 2019, ahead of a special summit between South Korea and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set for Nov. 25-26 in the southeastern port of Busan. PHOTO CREDIT: KOREA.net (the official web portal of the South Korean government)

Exactly thirty years ago in November 1989, ASEAN and the Republic of Korea (ROK) launched a Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity – to increase people-to-people contact, sustained prosperity, and long-lasting peace – now enshrined as 3Ps (People, Prosperity, and Peace). Subsequently, President Moon Jae-in initiated two regional initiatives – New Southern Policy (NSP) and New Northern Policy (NNP) – since he took office in May 2017 to further enhance the strategic partnerships. In promotion of the NSP, President Moon Jae-in completed his official visits to all ten ASEAN member states this year. The aim of his visits was to symbolically lead the way to deepen people-to-people connectivity and stronger economic linkages between our Southeast Asia region and the Korean Peninsula. Incidentally, the fundamental elements of the NSP are in alignment with the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 which called for people-centered and people-oriented community. In complementary to the ASEAN-Korea Strategic Partnership Plan, the ASEAN has adopted “Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025”, “ASEAN Communication Master Plan” and ASEAN Sustainable-Urbanization-Strategy”. Additionally, the elements of NSP also aligned with the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan 2018-2030 which focused on three pillars of “Peace and Stability”, “Prosperity and Partnership”, and “People and the Earth”. Such alignments all around provided common interests for cooperation and enabled the ASEAN, Myanmar, and ROK to connect on a heart-to-heart basis.
To commemorate this significant anniversary of friendship ties, the ROK will host ASEAN-Korea Summit and the first Mekong-Korea Summit in Busan during November 2019. Leading up to these summits, the ROK government has sponsored various activities to include ASEAN-Korea Media Forum, ASEAN Week, ASEAN-Korea Startup Week, and ASEAN-Korea Train Program throughout the month of October.
I would like to share a unique and truly memorable experience from my participation in the ASEAN-Korea Train Program – which included a three-day train trip from the capital city of Seoul to four other major cities in South Korea during 15-18 October 2019. This event was hosted by the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and organized by ASEAN-Korea Centre. I feel honored and fortunate to have been selected by Myanmar Ministry of Education to represent the Myanmar academia sector at this event. The Myanmar delegation included seven delegates, and the team was led by Minister Dr. Pe Myint from the Myanmar Ministry of Information.
The ASEAN-Korea train trip was intellectually stimulating and very enjoyable for all of us. It created a unique opportunity for all delegates to travel together, share knowledge, and develop a bond of friendship. This event embodied the fundamental 3P elements of the NSP — People, Prosperity and Peace. The train trip connected 200 people from ASEAN and South Korea with different backgrounds to include ministers, ambassadors, business people, academics, media professionals, artists, and youth. Over the course of the journey, the participants had many opportunities to interact with each other. We shared each other’s cultures and histories. As such, all of us gained a better understanding of each other’s national history and developed an appreciation for uniqueness of each cultures. The participants were entertained by cultural performances throughout the journey on the train. Distinguished artists from ASEAN member states and ROK performed their country’s dances and music. As train took people from one place to another, so too the friendship ties connecting the region and the people. It helped participants see how greater cooperation and friendship amongst us can take both of our regions to the new level of greater prosperity and greater peace in the ASEAN region and on the Korean Peninsula.
The train journey began from Seoul and travelled to four major cities: Gyeongju, Busan, Suncheon and Gwangju. On our first day, we toured the Bulguksa temple, one of South Korea’s prominent world heritage sites, in Gyeongju city. We learned about how carefully and thoughtfully South Korea preserves its cultural sites. I see how Myanmar can better preserve our own cultural heritage site like Bagan, which was recently listed as the UNESCO’s world heritage site. The tour to Suncheon Bay Wetland Reserve – one of the world’s five major coastal wetlands – awed us with its natural beauty and enchanting landscape. The ROK government’s effort to conserve the environment was quite impressive. I thought about how Myanmar could improve the conservation effort of the Inle Lake in Shan State.
On the second day, the train stopped at Busan, a large port city of South Korea and the place to host ASEAN-Korea Summit in November 2019. The tour of Busan highlighted the tangible benefits of cooperation and economic partnership between ASEAN and South Korea. Number of visitors travelling between ASEAN and ROK reached record figure of 11 million in 2018. The ASEAN is ROK’s second largest trading partner in the world with two-way trade volume reaching 160 billion USD in 2018. Besides, ROK is a country that has investments in the manufacturing and infrastructure sector of Myanmar. According to the figures of the Myanmar Investment Commission up to July 2019, ROK had invested $3.9 billion for 177 investment projects, standing at the 6th position among foreign investors countries. ROK’s investments have brought employment opportunities, knowledge and skills into the country, and this could create a better socio-economic situation for Myanmar people.
On our third day of the trip, we visited the Asian Culture Center (ACC) in Gwangju city. This city is considered to be the heart of Korean’s culture and arts. The ACC is a Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism-affiliated institution established for the advancement of mutual understanding and cooperative growth with Asian countries through education and research in Asian culture. The creativity and inclusivity displayed by the ASEAN-Korea special exhibition at the Center delighted all of us. The exhibit illustrated hundreds of hanging lanterns expressed by digital art, symbolizing peace and prosperity between ASEAN and the Korean Peninsula. It also innovatively featured interactive media art integrating ASEAN’s common traditional cultural elements such as water, light, lantern, fabric, etc.
As the friendship train journey arrived at its final destination, we were treated to a closing ceremony with the theme of peace. As we bid our farewells to our host, travelling companions, and newly found friends, we sang a song of hope – “Our Hope” – for a brighter future and for one Korea on the Korean Peninsula one day. I also thought of peace for Myanmar. I said a little prayer for Myanmar to be a peaceful nation one day with all of us living in peaceful coexistence.
After the five-day program with three-day of train ride across South Korea, I now have a better appreciation of the NSP. I realized that the aim of prosperity within the NSP is more than just sharing of South Korea’s development experience with the ASEAN’s developing countries; it includes also laying the foundation necessary for the long-term growth of those countries through infrastructure development and capacity building. I have high hopes for the ASEAN-Korea Centre to serve as the bridge to coordinate ASEAN-related initiatives and policies within ROK government to effectively implement the vision set by the NSP. The train ride was a very innovative and memorable way to bring people together from various backgrounds to celebrate an incredible milestone of genuine understanding and partnership between the people from the ASEAN region and the Korea Peninsula.

References:
– ASEAN-Korea Center program book
– Speech of Minister of Foreign Affairs, ROK at closing ceremony of ASEAN-Korea Train Program, 18-10-2019

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