Lee: Korea to help Myanmar achieve both democracy, economic development
YANGON, Myanmar (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday South Korea will help Myanmar achieve both democracy and economic development as he met with the Southeast Asian nation's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Lee made the remark during a joint news conference with Suu Kyi after a meeting in Myanmar's former capital, Yangon, stressing that democracy should never be sacrificed for industrial development.
Lee also said he told Myanmar President Thein Sein during a summit a day earlier that cooperation between the two countries will further move forward if Myanmar's democratization process goes smoothly.
"The Republic of Korea is a country that achieved both industrialization and more importantly, democratization together," Lee said. "The people of South Korea will pay deep attention so as to help Myanmar" take a similar path so that democratization and economic growth are achieved together.
Lee also said democracy should never be sacrificed to revive the economy.
"This is exactly what we want in Burma (Myanmar). We want justice and freedom and we want prosperity. Not either of it but all of it together," Suu Kyi said. "And President Lee understands perfectly that prosperity is no substitute for democracy."
Suu Kyi also said she and Lee agreed on the importance of education, saying she wants children of her nation to have access to good education that will enable them to construct the future of their country.
"A genuine democracy can only come when the people are empowered, and the people are confident that their future lies in their own hands, not in the hands of those who are ruling them," she said. "In fact, genuine democracy comes when people understand the government is actually in their hands, not the other way around."
Suu Kyi has been a symbol of Myanmar's democracy movement. Military rulers have repeatedly put her into house arrest, considering her a threat to their autocratic rule. She spent much of the past 20 years under house arrest and was last released in late 2010.
Lee is the first South Korean president to visit Myanmar, previously known as Burma, in 29 years since North Korea's 1983 terrorist bombing that ripped through a Yangon memorial and killed 17 South Koreans, including Cabinet ministers.
After the meeting with Suu Kyi, Lee paid a visit to the cemetery where the attack happened.
"I thought it would be an etiquette to visit here as this is the place" of the terrorist bombing, Lee said. "I hope this will serve as a comfort for the bereaved families. This kind of history should never repeat."
The landmark trip came as Myanmar has won international praise for taking a series of sweeping political and economic reform measures since the country's new government of general-turned-President Thein Sein took power last year after decades of military rule.
His government has released hundreds of political prisoners, relaxed press censorship and sought reconciliation with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party (NLD). In a by-election held last month, the NLD won a landslide victory, and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner was also elected to parliament.
These moves led to the United States and the European Union easing some sanctions.
On Monday, Lee held summit talks with Sein, where the Myanmar leader agreed to free a North Korean defector detained in the country for illegal border crossing, and promised to abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
The agreement suggests that Myanmar, once lumped by the U.S. as part of an "axis of evil" or "outpost of tyranny" along with North Korea and others, will distance itself from Pyongyang as it opens up to the outside world with democratic reforms.
Lee offered to expand grants and development loans to Myanmar and carry out a string of programs to share Korea's economic development experience. The sides also agreed to expand cooperation in energy and resources development, and infrastructure construction in Myanmar.
Lee's trip is seen as an effort by Korea to reach out to an underdeveloped nation with rich natural resources and growth potential. About three times the size of the Korean Peninsula, the country has one of the world's largest natural gas reserves and big deposits of iron ore, zinc, nickel and other mineral resources.
Myanmar is also considered a strategic foothold linking huge markets in nearby China and India. Though one of the world's poorest nations, with the annual per capita income of US$700, Myanmar has a high literacy rate and could provide cheap, but quality labor for companies.
Lee's plan to visit the Southeast Asian nation had been kept under tight wraps until the last minute due to security concerns stemming from the memories of the 1983 terrorist bombing, coupled with a spike in North Korea's menacing rhetoric against Lee in recent weeks.