Myanmar President Thein Sein’s visit to Seoul earlier this week highlighted the importance the Southeast Asian country attached to expanding its ties with South Korea.
The Myanmar leader came here to reciprocate President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Naypyidaw in May. The top leaders’ exchange of visits indicates deepening relations between the countries ? a development that must be painful to North Korea, as Myanmar has long been one of Pyongyang’s allies.

Myanmar embarked on a path of political and economic reform last year, putting an end to decades of isolation. It has since sought support from other countries to expedite economic growth and facilitate its transition to democracy.

The Seoul government should provide all the assistance it can muster to Myanmar as the country’s civilian government under Thein Sein regards South Korea as its development model.

During his three-day visit, the Myanmar leader showed his eagerness to learn from Seoul’s development experience. He said his role model was former President Park Chung-hee. No wonder that the first place he visited in Korea was the Central Training Institute of Saemaul Undong. He wanted to assimilate Park’s signature movement aimed at modernizing rural villages.

Thein Sein also wanted to emulate the systematic approach Seoul used in pushing for industrialization. He asked Seoul officials to help him set up a think tank modeled after the Korea Development Institute. The KDI is credited with drafting the five-year economic development plans that guided Seoul’s development efforts until the 1980s.

Another Korean institution he wanted to replicate was the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, a state-run organization that specializes in helping small and medium-sized companies explore overseas markets. Thein Sein was well aware of the role exports play in driving economic growth.

The Myanmar leader was also keen to attract Korean investors as his government seeks to build infrastructure and foster industries. The country is likely to emerge as an attractive investment destination for Korean companies, given its rich energy and mineral resources.

To facilitate Korean investment in Myanmar, Lee and Thein Sein agreed during their summit to launch talks on an investment guarantee pact between the two countries.

The Seoul government has every reason to help Myanmar achieve political and economic development. Korea will also benefit from cooperation with Myanmar as the two economies are highly complementary.

Generous support for the Southeast Asian country will also send a message to North Korea ? if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear programs and opens up its economy, the South will lend more than a helping hand to it.