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South Korea

by Michael last modified 2006-11-08 19:11

Although Burma is roughly seven times the size of South Korea, the latter has a slightly larger population (48 million as opposed to Burma’s 45 million). Moreover, the country’s GDP is about seven times larger than Burma’s. South Korea is among the East Asian Tigers, the region’s strong economies. Its main industries are shipbuilding, car manufacture, machinery, electronics, chemicals, and textiles. Its major trading partners are the USA, Japan, and China. [1]

While oil makes up just over half of all energy requirements, gas currently contributes about 9%. To meet projected increases in gas consumption, this figure is expected to rise in the future, as South Korea continues with gas infrastructure development projects. [2] Since South Korea does not produce commercially viable amounts of natural gas on or off its own shores, its consumption of app. 20.92 billion cubic meters (2001 estimate) has to be met by gas imports. South Korea has relied on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet demand since 1986. [2, 3]

South Korea is important to world energy markets as the fifth largest oil importer, and the second largest importer of LNG (behind Japan), importing some 12.5 metric tons of LNG in 1999, up from 2.1 metric tons in 1988. [2, 3, 4] According to UK Trade and Investment, it is estimated that demand for natural gas in South Korea will rise to between 28.6 and 30 million tons by the year 2010. [2]

All of South Korea’s gas is imported by the state-owned monopoly LNG importer the Korean Gas Corporation (KOGAS),  the world’s single largest importer of natural gas. KOGAS imports LNG from Indonesia, Malaysia and, to a lesser extent, from Brunei, Australia and Qatar (South Korea is currently also negotiating to import LNG from Russia). In March 2001, South Korea's natural gas supply was disrupted due to continuing anti-government violence in Indonesia. Supplies had to be secured from other sources. Spot cargoes were purchased from Indonesia as a temporary measure. Subsequently, in May 2001, KOGAS singed a deal with other suppliers to replace LNG from Indonesia’s conflict-stricken Aceh province. [2, 3]

The government’s decision to purchase gas imports from Burma in the future does not appear to take into account recent experiences of investing in politically unstable countries. An investment in the Shwe project could lead to yet another potential disruption of gas supplies, as the political situation in Burma is very unstable and the general populace certainly is not supportive of the military regime in Rangoon. Moreover, with continued investment, the South Korean government (through KOGAS) and South Korean corporations (such as Daewoo International) further entrench the brutal military regime and prolong the suffering of the Burmese people.

In September 2004, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, praised South Korea for its human rights record, saying that South Korea was a "flagship for the protection and promotion of human rights". [5] While this may be true to most South Koreans, it certainly is not true to most Burmese, whose lives and livelihoods are at risk thanks also to the South Korean government’s and South Korean corporations’ continued investments in the Burma. 


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