By Lee Kyung-sik
Publisher-Chairman, The Korea Post media
President U Htin Kyaw of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar obviously takes strong interest in the promotion of close and warm relations and friendship between his country and Korea. As soon as President Moon Jae-in was elected new President of Korea, President U of Myanmar sent a warm congratulatory message to the then President-elect Moon.
In the letter, President U said: “The Myanmar Government looks forward to working closely together with the Republic of Korea under President Moon Jae-in to further strengthen our bilateral ties and enhance cooperation in the interests of the two countries.”
This was learned at a recent interview with Ambassador Thura Thet Oo Moung of Myanmar in Seoul conducted personally by Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post media, established 32 years and consisting of five media outlets, 3 in English and 2 in Korean, including a regular-sized 20-page Korean-language newspaper. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: What is the view of the Head of Government of your country on President Moon Jae-in and his news government?
Answer: As soon as we learned that Presidential Candidate Moon Jae-win won the Presidential election from the announcement of the National Election Commission, The President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, His Excellency Mr. U Htin Kyaw, sent a congratulatory message addressed to His Excellency Mr. Moon Jae-in.
In this congratulatory message,
the Myanmar Government expressed that it looked forward to working closely with Republic of Korea under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Moon Jae-in to further strengthen our bilateral ties and enhance cooperation in the interests of both peoples. In addition, I do believe that Myanmar and the Republic of Korea have always enjoyed friendly relations and close cooperation in both the bilateral and regional contexts.
Q: President Moon won an 84% support from the Korean people, highest among all the Presidents of the Republic of Korea before him. What is your view on this?
A: I noted that His Excellency Mr. Moon Jae-in won 84 % support from the Korean people and it accounted for the highest rating among all the Presidents of the Republic of Korea.
As you may be aware, Myanmar and the Republic of Korea have always enjoyed long-standing friendship since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975.
I am pleased to note that our bilateral relations and mutually beneficial cooperation have been growing significantly in the recent years.
The exchanges of visits undertaken at different levels and different periods of time between political leaders, high-ranking government officials, military personnel, businessmen and such exchanges at the people-to-people level have also become an important factor contributing to strengthening the relations and friendship between Myanmar and Republic of Korea.
governments, and also have similar nature of being fully supported by people of the two countries. Myanmar attaches high importance to promoting friendly ties with Republic of Korea which has considerable potential for successful cooperation in the various spheres. On the basis of the above, the relations and development of cooperation between the two countries, I am highly optimistic, will further grow in the years ahead.
Q: Diversification and expansion of trade and economic cooperation with different countries of the world are expected in the world in contrast to one that used to be centered on the United States, Japan and other such countries. What are the possibilities of expanded trade and economic cooperation between Korea and your country?
A: The new government has presented economic policies in July 2016, highlighting the importance of developing a market-oriented system “in all sectors” and establish an economic framework in support of national reconciliation. The most crucial reform on the economic front is the new Myanmar Investment Law, enacted by the new government in October 2016. The aim of the legislation is to equalize treatment of foreign and domestic investors, while also simplifying procedures. Myanmar became a beneficiary of the US GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) program on November 13, 2016. As a beneficiary country of the GSP, Myanmar may export almost 5000 different products to the United States duty-free.
The foreign manufacturers who are investing in Myanmar will also have a chance to export their products to the US duty-free. Preferential tariff arrangements for exports of the least-developed country Myanmar to various geographies (e.g. European Union, Japan) create distinct economic incentives for investment in Myanmar. Relating to the above-mentioned situations, Myanmar has many favorable factors to expand trade and economic cooperation with Korea.
Q: What are the major developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including the possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea?
A: The Republic of Korea has been providing ODA loans, Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) through Korea EXIM Bank and ODA grants through KOICA. On behalf of the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, I express deep
appreciation to the people and Government of the Republic of Korea for technical and financial assistance extended to the Government of the Republic of Myanmar. One of the biggest successful stories of the Korean companies in Myanmar is the development of Shwe Offshore Gas Field project, the first gas field found in the northern ocean of Myanmar and the largest gas field that a Korean company has discovered in 30 years.
Moreover, other big project that reflects the friendship of Myanmar and Republic of Korea is the Korea-Myanmar Friendship Bridge (Dala). The project is expected to cost USD168.173 million. Out of this amount , USD137.833 million will be funded through a loan from Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) and the Ministry of Construction of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar will shoulder the remaining amount of USD30.341
million. Upon completion of the Bridge, it will contribute to socio-economic development of the local people from the outskirts of Yangon city. The construction process will begin in January 2018 and is expected to be completed in 2021.
So, it is no doubt that cooperation and relationship between the two countries will be growing on momentum in the years ahead and it is possible that the President or State Counsellor of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar will pay a State Visit to the Republic of Korea in the very near future.
Q: What is the current volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Myanmar-Korea bilateral trade was 656.536 million USD in 2015-2016 fiscal year (Export – 259.945 million USD and Import – 396.591million USD), 866.068 million USD in 2016-2017 fiscal year (Export - 342.432 million USD and Import- 523.636 million USD), 120.472 million USD in 2017-2018 fiscal year as of May (Export - 37.299 million USD and Import 83.173 million USD), respectively.
The outlook of overall trade volume to be reached in the fiscal year 2017-2018 is 29000 million USD (the approximation of total trade volume of the country).
Myanmar exports rice, pulses, crops that produce oil, fishery products, forestry products, rubber and garments to South Korea. Myanmar imports agricultural machines, industrial products, steel, plastic and electronic products from Korea.
Question: What are your competitive fields of industry and products attractive to Korea and what are Korean products and services that your country might wish to import?
A: Myanmar is famous for its natural resources such as oil and gas, various minerals, precious stones and gems, timber and forest products, hydropower potential, etc. Of these, natural gas, rubies, jade, and timber logs are the most valuable and currently provide a substantial proportion of national income.
Actually, Korea has many competitive advantages in expanding markets because South Korean pop culture called “Korean wave” has been making the rounds all over Asia in recent years. Korean movies and K-pop music are very famous in Myanmar and Myanmar people have positive impression with Korea. Korean people should take this opportunity and try to expand their business in Myanmar. Cosmetics, Korean food, cosmetic surgery services, healthcare services and Korean beauty and fashion will have great potential to attract Myanmar people. Furthermore, labor- intensive industries, capital-intensive industries and the investments that can transfer technology to Myanmar people, are also welcome.
Q: Who are the Korean companies actively engaged in the promotion of economic cooperation between Korea and your esteemed country?
A: As of today, Korea is Myanmar’s 6th biggest investor and 7th largest trading partner. So we have a strong and close trade and investment relationship between two countries. Many Korean firms have already established in Myanmar, doing their business in various sectors. Posco Daewoo Cooperation has been participating in the oil and gas development of Myanmar and also investing in other sectors. The Korea Land & Housing Corporation (LH) has signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to build a Korea-Myanmar Economic Cooperation Industrial Complex with the Myanmar’s Ministry of Construction on June 16, 2017.
Lotte Group started their business in Myanmar by opening Lotteria food chains and then they continued to invest in constructing hotel in Yangon.
Some Korean banks, including Shinhan and Woori, have their branches and representative offices in Myanmar. There are also many LG Electronics showrooms in Myanmar and Samsung’s home appliances and mobile phones are also much popular among Myanmar people. Furthermore, Korea-based automakers, Hyundai and Kia, have opened their showrooms, importing and selling vehicles in Myanmar.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your business companies to invest in Korea?
A: Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) has announced 10 areas which will be
prioritized for investment by both local and foreign entrepreneurs. The 10 prioritized areas for investment include agriculture, livestock and fishery, export promotion, import substitution, power, logistics, education, health care, affordable housing construction and establishment of industrial estate.
Being a developing country, Myanmar is still trying to start outbound investments in the oversea countries. In the future, I wish Myanmar business companies to invest in manufacturing, tourism, consumer electronics, trade, and services sectors of Korea.
Q: Please introduce the Head of Government of your country in detail, including the major achievements. Please elaborate as President Moon and the New Government of the Republic of Korea are relatively less informed of the subject compared with their predecessors?
A: The President of Myanmar, His Excellency U Htin Kyaw, was born in Rangoon, British Burma (now Myanmar), to the late Burmese Scholar and Poet Min Thu Wun and Kyi Kyi. He completed his high school education at an English Methodist High School in 1962. He pursued further studies on a scholarship to the Institute of Computer Science, University of London in1971 and attended a course at the Arthur D.Litt School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1987.
As you may be aware, other prominent leader of Myanmar Government is State Counsellor Her Excellency Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was born in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar), daughter of General Aung San (a martyred national hero of independent Burma ) and
prominent Burmese Diplomat Ambassador Daw Khin Kyi. After her further study in India, she attended a course for philosophy, politics and economics at St. Hugh’s College, University of Oxford.
Her Excellency Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991 and many more awards including the Rafto Prize, the Sakharov Prize, Jawaharlal Nehru Peace Prize for freedom of thought, peaceful and non-violent struggle, pro-democracy activist in Burma (Myanmar).
Q: What are the attractive tourist destinations of Myanmar?
A: Shwedagon Pagoda: Shwedagon Pagoda is the most popular and well-known pagoda in Yangon.
The pagoda is one of the main tourist destinations in Myanmar. The Shwedagon Pagoda is a great cone-shaped Buddhist monument that crowns a hill about one mile north of the Cantonment. The pagoda itself is a solid brick stupa (Buddhist reliquary) that is completely covered with gold. It rises 326 feet (99 m) on a hill 168 feet (51 m) above the city.
Pagan Over 2000 Temples and Pagodas (11th – 13th centuries) lies in 42 sq.km makes Bagan one of the richest archaeological site in Asia. Bagan was founded at the present site by King Pyinbyu in 849 A.D. And Bagan became the capital of first Myanmar Empire after King Anawrahta came to throne in 1044 A.D.. Visiting Pagodas and temples, sunset river cruise in legendary Ayeyarwaddy River, browsing the museum, visit lacquer ware factory will help you remember the best memory of your life.
Inle Lake: This vast lake is located in the heart of Shan State which shares borders with Thai & Laos. And it climbs up to over 900 meters above sea level and outrageously beautiful. Inle Lake is located in the mountains so it is cooler than other areas. More than 30 hill tribes are living in the mountains.
This vast picturesque lake, 900 meters above sea-level, is one of the main tourist attractions in Myanmar. The lake, 22 km long and 10 km across, has a population of some 150,000, many of whom live on floating islands of vegetation. Inle Lake, natural and unpolluted, is famous for its scenic beauty and the unique leg-rowing of the Inthas, the native lake dwellers.
Inle Lake, natural and unpolluted, is famous for its scenic beauty and the unique leg rowing of the Inthas, the native lake dwellers. High hills rim the lake on both sides. The lakeshore and lake islands bear 17 villages on stilts, mostly inhabited by the Intha people.
Golden Rock (Kyaik Htee Yoo Pagoda): The somewhat rigorous trip to this unique pilgrimage site is always rewarded with a fabulous sight of a huge boulder weighing 600 tons, precariously balanced at the edge of a crag of Paung Laung Mountain Chain, approximately 200 km Southeast of Yangon. On top of the boulder is a delicate pagoda, enshrined with a single strand of hair relic of Buddha, which is said to be the prime force maintaining the balance of this huge boulder. According to a geological survey of April 1980, the boulder had been in place since 2400 years ago and survived a series of earthquakes. Be warned that tourism infrastructure in this region is very basic and simple. This trip should be regarded as a soft adventure.