BANGKOK -- Burma has promised visiting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak it will no longer buy weapons from North Korea. During his historic visit, Lee also met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and expressed confidence that Burma’s reform process could follow in South Korea’s footsteps.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s presidential Blue House issued a statement confirming Burmese President Thein Sein's promise to comply with U.N. resolutions aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The pledge was given during a Monday meeting with Lee, who was also assured Burma never pursued nuclear cooperation with Pyongyang.
As early as 2006, Burmese defectors and Seoul foreign intelligence officers suspected North Korea was helping Burma develop a secret nuclear program, which Burma has always denied.
Lee told journalists that he urged President Thein Sein not to violate United Nations resolutions on North Korea, adding that he also praised the Burmese leader for moving the country away from military rule and toward democracy, comparing it to South Korea’s own experience.
"South Korea is a rare country that has achieved industrialization as well as democratization," said the South Korean leader, adding that he was confident "Burma is going to go along a very similar path of not only becoming more prosperous and providing a better life for its people but, more importantly, becoming a true democracy."
Lee made the comments after meeting with opposition democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She said the Burmese people, like South Koreans, took the “hard road” to democratic leadership.
"We are at a point in the history of our country when there is a possibility for transition, but I do not think we can take it for granted that this transition will come about," she said. "The intention is there and there is good will from all over the world, but we have to make sure that we do not dissipate this good will and that we put it to the best use possible by making sure that it is used in the best way possible, which is for sake of our people."
South Korea as a Model Democracy
The government-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Tuesday said Burma wants South Korea to share its experience with economic development and democratic reform.
Seoul, which was run by the military following the Korean War that divided North and South in the 1950s, transitioned to civilian rule.
Ralph Cossa, president of the pacific forum in Honolulu, said South Korea, along with Taiwan, is one of the few models that Burma could follow.
"Burma could learn a lot from South Korea and how they managed their transition to democracy, because the South did this extremely successfully," he said. "In a fairly short number of years, they went from being a military dictatorship to having a [somewhat] controlled presidential election like [the controlled democratic elections] they’re having [in Burma], to the extent of now being a very robust and unpredictable democracy in South Korea."
Cossa said the trip also gives the South a rare diplomatic victory over North Korea, as Pyongyang has recently been in the spotlight for threats against South Korea and a much publicized but failed rocket launch.
Lee’s visit is the first by a South Korean president since 1983 when North Korean agents bombed the South’s delegation as they were visiting Martyr’s Mausoleum, a Rangoon monument to Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Aung San. The blast, which claimed 21 people, killed several Korean diplomats but missed the president only because he was stuck in traffic.
In response, Burma severed relations with North Korea, although official ties resumed in 2007 amid suspicions of military or even nuclear cooperation.
The South Korean president Tuesday made a brief visit to the site of the 1983 bombing.
An Eye on Investment Ethics
Suzanne DiMaggio, Vice President of Global Policy Programs with the New York based Asia Foundation, said that while North Korea is a forefront issue, the trip is primarily focused on promoting economic ties.
"South Korea has had economic relations with Burma for quite a while now, and in fact is Burma’s fourth largest foreign investor," she said. "And I do think after this visit we’ll see those trade relations and economic relations increase."
Korean company Daewoo is currently investing billions in Burma, including funds for a natural gas field to supply pipelines stretching to China. The pipelines, which are under construction, have sparked controversy among domestic and international critics.
DiMaggio said Korean businesses need to be more aware of growing movements inside Burma for socially and environmentally responsible investing.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.