By Mr Lee Sang-hwa, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
As the Korean Ambassador, 24 December marks a special day in the context of Korea-Myanmar relations. I have witnessed multiple times the concerted efforts undertaken by Myanmar and Korea to advance key development projects and how such remarkably coordinated actions bore tangible fruits on Christmas Eve, as a mutually beneficial gift.
On 24 December 2018, Dala Bridge, better known as Korea-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, had a groundbreaking ceremony. Expected to be completed in October 2022, it will become a shining symbol for a more prosperous Yangon. Exactly two years after its ceremony, on the date of 24 December 2020, Korea-Myanmar industrial complex (KMIC) held its ground-breaking ceremony. In Myanmar, the number nine (9) seems to be an auspicious digit. For instance, in the Shwedagon Pagoda, people pay homage to Buddha images by pouring water nine times thereon. To note, and coincidently, when you add the individual digits of the date “24” (2+4) and the digits of the month of December “12” (1+2), it equals to the number nine. While this numerical permutation may just be a pure and lucky coincidence, there is no doubt that 24 December, also a Christmas Eve, has a special place in terms of win-win partnership between the two long-term friends – Korea and Myanmar.
In the context of business partnership, KMIC will serve as a new, powerful engine for Korean investment in Myanmar. As a Korean government-led industrial complex, the first of such nature and scale in Myanmar, KMIC is highly expected to strengthen Myanmar’s industrial sector and in return, contribute positively in creating new jobs. Ever since Myanmar started its arduous journey for democracy and economic reform, the country has been considered as the last frontier market in the region. Such perception has since been gaining more traction and momentum, especially under the COVID-19 context, which served as a wake-up call for restructuring global value chains. As the most resourceful country in the Mekong region, Myanmar is positioned to offer the most attractive environment for foreign investors. Many Korean entrepreneurs stationed in neighbouring countries, such as in China and Viet Nam, are considering relocating their factories. In doing so, they look to Myanmar as a viable option. Moreover, with the overwhelming victory by the NLD government in the recent election, Myanmar is on track to carry on its key economic policies in a stable and sustainable atmosphere. Against this backdrop, KMIC is expected to draw as many as 150 to 200 Korean companies. Furthermore, it is encouraging to see that prominent MSMEs and big companies with global standing, are showing keen interest in this endeavour. As the first-ever G-to-G overseas project to build a smart, green industrial complex, by quasi-governmental organization, LH (Land & Housing Corporation), KMIC is strongly supported by the Korean government for this key initiative. As such, it is no surprise that KMIC was specifically mentioned as a flagship project when the Korean government unveiled seven key priority areas under the banner of New Southern Policy Plus (NSP Plus). With the SEZ-type one-stop-service built in the complex, KMIC is set to be a smart green industrial complex. It will introduce sophisticated elements of the 4th industrial revolution, such as smart factory, big data and IoT, in line with the modern digital technology trend. In addition, KMIC will showcase eco-friendly design by being significantly energy self-reliant. In doing so, it aims to use renewable energy as much as possible. In a nutshell, Smart green industrial complex is a hallmark of Korean overseas development projects.
The groundbreaking ceremony of KMIC received its due recognition and was honored with many key VIP guests in attendance. On the Myanmar side, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a speech via video conference, appreciating the fast-growing relationship between our two countries. High-level dignitaries, including Union Minister U Thaung Tun for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein and Deputy Minister Dr Kyaw Linn for Construction, were present. On its part, the Korean government sent Mr Park Bokyeong, chairman of the Presidential Committee on New Southern Policy. It is particularly noteworthy that Mr Park chose Myanmar as his first trip among the ten (10) ASEAN partners following the announcement of NSP Plus. NSP Plus, coupled with recent decision of elevating Korea-Mekong ties to strategic partnership, will surely bring Myanmar-Korea bonds stronger than ever.
The launching of Korea Desk made 24 December this year even more special. Located in two offices, DICA (Directorate of Investment and Company Administration) and Yangon Office of Ministry of Commerce, Korea Desk will serve as a one-stop-service entry point for incoming Korean businessmen. Korea is only one of the handful of countries Myanmar allows this one-stop-service function with a view to facilitating Korean entrepreneurs to start their business. Korea Desk will certainly help new Korean comers to put a solid foothold in Myanmar. Myanmar is the second country in the ASEAN region, after Vietnam, in which Korea Trade Promotion Agency (KOTRA) set a Korea Desk. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea and Myanmar spared no efforts to expedite the implementation of key agreements during the two summit meetings in 2019. In addition to the KMIC project, the first Joint Commission on Cooperation in Trade and Industries was convened in September this year and agreed upon setting a Korea Desk before the end of the year. The Joint Commission covers four sectors – Trade, Investment, Industries, and Energy. Both Myanmar and Korea share the view that trade volume, which stands at around 1 US billion per year, can double in the coming years. In this context, the recently signed RCEP – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – is also expected to provide a favorable atmosphere for augmenting trade between Myanmar and Korea.
To conclude, I have no doubt that all would agree that the year 2020 was an eventful year. As 2020 draws to an end and as we usher in the new year, I am grateful that even the COVID-19 global pandemic crisis was no match for us in deterring our firm, joint commitment to enhance cooperation between our two countries. The successful inauguration ceremony of KMIC and the launching of Korea Desk speak for themselves. Building on this precious momentum, the year 2021 will mark a milestone for a greater win-win partnership between Myanmar and Korea, with a lasting impact. The world is watching us, and the next chapter has just begun.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.—Ed.