On November 15, the Myanmar Investment Agency (DICA), the Korean Embassy in Myanmar, the Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) held a 'Dialogue for Economic Cooperation between Team Korea and Myanmar' at the Lotte Hotel located in Yangon. In particular, it was revealed that U THANT SIN LWIN, General Director of the Myanmar Investment Agency, who was appointed by the Myanmar coup d'état, attended this event and discussed investment-related issues with Korean companies. The Korean civil society, which has been working for Myanmar's democracy, can't help but feel dismayed and outraged that the government and related organizations held a public event to discuss economic cooperation with the coup while the military's brutal slaughter of innocent citizens is being continued. This is especially true in that the Korean government has criticized the military coup d'etat in Myanmar and has expressed its support for Myanmar's democracy.
Now that the international community supports Myanmar's democracy with one voice, the fact that the government cannot prevent Korean companies from colluding with the Myanmar military but it held an event to openly discuss economic cooperation with Myanmar's coup d'etat forces itself shows the government's unprincipled response to the Myanmar coup.
After the military coup in Myanmar in February of this year, the government condemned the coup, but did not take any action on the investment issue of Korean companies that are cooperating with the Myanmar military. After the military coup in Myanmar, the international community is seeking and implementing sanctions against the investment of companies that are the source of the military's funds. It is symbolic in that sense that this event was held at the Lotte Hotel in Yangon, which is being conducted as a joint project with the Myanmar military. This is because Lotte Hotel operates under a contract that pays the military $1.8 million and 2 billion in Korean won every year as rent for up to 70 years and IGE, a local company in Myanmar, which is operating a joint venture, is a military family company that also donated $35,000 to the Rohingya genocide operation. The fact that the Korean government invited officials from the Myanmar coup d'etat to discuss economic cooperation at a Korean hotel funded by the Myanmar military comes as a shock to the citizens of Myanmar. Myanmar citizens are expressing their anger and disappointment to the Korean government through social media for hosting the event.
Another problem is that whatever the government's purpose for holding this event, the event itself can be seen as a signal to Korean companies entering Myanmar that they can cooperate with the Myanmar military. In fact, on November 5th, Gasan Apparel, a Korean clothing company located in an industrial complex near Yangon, requested the dispatch of a military unit to a strike protest against the wage cut, and the army arriving at the factory filmed a scene of the workers' protest. On November 16th, the Myanmar Federation of Trade Unions, as well as the Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Federation of Trade Unions jointly sent a letter of protest to the government regarding the issue of Korean companies threatening workers' right to strike by mobilizing the army, but the government is showing no response.
The voices of the citizens of Myanmar are the voices of the citizens of Korea, calling for respect for the labor rights of Myanmar workers and that the Korean government cooperating with the coup forces should be ashamed. Korean civil society vividly remembers President Moon Jae-in's remarks, "In today's Myanmar, we see yesterday's Gwangju." The government should explain why it hosted such an event in the name of economic cooperation at a time when Myanmar's citizens are suffering and dying. It is necessary to explain convincing reasons for this event, which once again showed that the New Southern Policy of ‘People’, ‘Peace’ and ‘Co-prosperity’ was a slogan for their own interests in the end. We must also face the fact that the passionate solidarity shown by many Korean citizens has been fading due to the negligent behavior of the Korean government and businesses. What the government should do now is to check how the measures promised by the government are being implemented and to disclose it to the public. Economic cooperation with Myanmar should not proceed without principles and philosophy, but should be carried out while fulfilling the duty to protect human rights granted under international law.
We urge that:
The Korean government should disclose the purpose of the event held by the Korean Embassy in Myanmar on November 15, including all the participants, and explain the reason for holding the event.
The Korean government should state what position it has on its relationship with the Myanmar military and what principles it has when responding to the situation in Myanmar after the Myanmar coup d'etat.
The Korean government should clarify what position and action it will take against Korean companies that are collaborating with the Myanmar military. In particular, the government should establish and disclose an immediate response plan to the Myanmar military's intervention and involvement in labor disputes occurring in Korean companies.
The Korean government should reaffirm the position of supporting Myanmar's democracy and opposing the coup d'etat, and establish the government's principles and guidelines for Korean companies' investment in Myanmar based on international human rights standards.
November 24, 2021
Korean Transnational Corporation Watch
Korean Civil Society Organizations Supporting Democracy in Myanmar,
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions