The following is an exclusive interview with Mr Lee Sang-hwa, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Myanmar.
Q. In 2nd week of November, ASEAN-related summit was held. At the ASEAN-ROK summit, Korean government disclosed “New Southern Policy Plus.”Could you elaborate on the meaning for this?
A: The New Southern Policy Plus is an upgraded version of the New Southern Policy launched in November 2017. We’ve implemented the policy for three years, and now we’ve taken its breadth and significance to the next level.
We will increase cooperation in seven key sectors:
– comprehensive cooperation in the health sector in the post-COVID era
– education and human resource development
– culture and creative industries
– win-win partnership in investment and trade
– rural community and smart city development
– joint cooperation in ICT-driven future industries
– strengthened cooperation in non-traditional security areas
We believe Myanmar is the last potential undiscovered market in ASEAN and that the New Southern Policy Plus will be a valuable support for the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan.
Q. Excellency, Mekong-the Republic of Korea cooperation which marks its 10th anniversary was elevated to the “Strategic Partnership for People, Prosperity and Peace” at the 2nd Mekong-ROK summit. What kind of cooperation with Myanmar as one of the Mekong members do you expect?
The ROK-Mekong meeting held in Busan last November was the first time national leaders convened and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was able to attend as well.
The strategic partnership shows Korea’s interest and dedication to improving relations with Mekong nations.
The relations between the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam have developed incredibly. Myanmar has the largest land area, the most natural resources and a large youthful source of human resource in the Mekong Region. A lot of Korean businesses are waiting for COVID to be over and make Myanmar a booming market, much like a second Viet Nam and become a valuable economic partner.
Q. Excellency, you mentioned that the New Southern Policy Plus highlights comprehensive cooperation in the health sector in the post-COVID era. What will be the status of Korean-Myanmar ties and how can the two countries work together to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and economic recovery during the next term of the NLD government?
A: This year marks the 45th year of our bilateral relations. We held two summit meetings last year, and both sides believe this has led to the strongest state yet for our relations.
We’ve increased cooperation in medicine due to COVID-19 and held countless meetings with Dr Myint Htwe, the Union Minister for Health and Sports.
We’ve formed the trade and industrial cooperation joint committee in September through online meetings despite COVID. Four ministry departments from Myanmar participated and discussed trade, investment, industrial and energy sectors. The New Southern Policy Plus will provide support on matters like this.
Q. As you explained, New Southern Policy Plus includes win-win partnership in investment and trade. Could you please brief us about the latest development of the Korea-Myanmar Industrial Complex (KMIC)? How about the prospects for SMEs from the ROK making investment in Myanmar?
A: COVID-19 is alerting us to reform global support systems. KMIC has the best chance of moving factories abroad post-pandemic, and the Myanmar government is aiming for that period to increase cooperation with KMIC.
We will select initial projects in December and we are in discussion with the Ministry of Construction to hold the stake-driving ceremony then as well. The Korean government aims to create a green, smart industrial zone with KMIC. We expect 150 to 200 businesses to come in, especially the technologically apt and competitive MSMEs from ROK.
Q. Mekong-ROK relationship was elevated to the ‘Strategic Partnership’. Add to this, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which both Myanmar and Korea participated, was signed on 15th November. Any prospect for boosting bilateral trade between the two countries after this.
A: The RCEP is a win-win incentive for everyone as the participants being ROK, China, Japan, ASEAN, Australia, New Zealand of the 15 nations hold 30% of the global economy.
ROK was able to elevate relations with the Mekong through the New Southern Policy Plus, and we feel being able to sign the RCEP will have a positive synergy for bilateral economic cooperation.
We hope to swiftly complete processes in Korea-Myanmar and reach multiple agreements. Bilateral trade and industrial cooperation mechanisms like Korea Desk and KMIC are gaining traction, and we need to prepare solid foundations to follow through with them.
Q. Peace is also an important part of the New Southern Policy Plus. Regarding your findings on Myanmar Election Day, can we say that Myanmar democratization and peace process is further strengthened?
A:Korea and Myanmar share similar histories. From our experience, we see the democratic system, solidarity, peace and economic development all spring up from a common frame.
The Myanmar government continuously declared “People are the key” during the general election to overcome COVID-19 and encourage democracy. Freedom of speech is integral for a democratic system, peace and economic development. I believe this is the reason this election is an important milestone in Myanmar’s democratic process. I am delighted on behalf of the government and people of Myanmar.
Q. Despite the global pandemic, Myanmar has a strong commitment and held a free and fair election according to the guidelines of COVID-19 prevention. Please share your impression on preparations and arrangements for holding Myanmar’s multiparty democracy general elections 2020?
A: I would like to congratulate the successful election despite the unforeseen challenges caused by COVID-19. I’m glad the disease hasn’t disappointed the people who are looking forward to democratic development.
Our embassy monitored two of the polling stations in Yangon, and we saw the peaceful voting process carried out since the morning while following health guidelines. It was a wonderful sight. We saw the bright future for Myanmar’s democracy.
The government of the Republic of Korea shared their know-how and experience of their election in April with the Union Election Commission and Ministry of Health and Sports through a video conference on how they dealt with COVID-19 to ensure a safe and fair election. We acknowledge the UEC and Ministry of Health and Sports have done exceptionally in this regard.