Burma, N. Korea Follow Different Foreign Policy Paths
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Burma

NEWS ANALYSIS

Burma, N. Korea Follow Different Foreign Policy Paths


By WAI MOE Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win met his North Korean counterpart, Pak Ui Chun, in Pyongyang on Monday—a diplomatic event that disguised the different foreign policy directions taken recently by the two countries.

Nyan Win’s visit to the North Korean capital is the second by a Burmese junta official within the past month. It follows a visit by Burma’s Minister of Sports, Brig-Gen Thura Aye Myint.

Diplomatic sources say that although the two countries have developed close military ties since the 1990s, Nyan Win’s visit is more likely to have been a diplomatic one, following the 2008 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Beijing.

Other high ranking military officials to visit North Korea this year include the mayor of Rangoon, Brig-Gen Aung Thein Lin (he visited in September), Lt-Gen Tin Aye, chief of the armed forces Office of Defense Industries (August) and Lt-Gen Myint Hlaing, chief of the Tatmadaw’s air defense (July).

Burma and North Korea resumed diplomatic relations in April 2007 after the Burmese government cut ties in 1983 when North Korean agents attempted to assassinate the South Korean president and his delegation in Rangoon.

Despite the break in diplomatic ties, military cooperation between the two countries intensified in the 1990s.

“In late 1990, North Korea sold Burma 20 million rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammunition,” said Andrew Selth, an expert on Burma’s military, in a research paper. 

Security analysts say that the Burmese junta also sought strategic weapons such as submarines and ballistic missiles from North Korea. Pyongyang reportedly delivered nuclear technology to Burma and helped with strategic tunnel building technology in the construction of Naypyidaw. Some reports suggested North Korean technicians are in Burma.

The increasing cooperation between Burma and North Korea drew expressions of concern from the US. In testimony before the US House International Relations Committee in March 2004, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew P. Daley said: “Of particular concern, we also have reason to believe that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has offered surface-to-surface missiles [to Burma].”

In April this year, Japan’s NHK news agency reported that North Korea had sold multiple rocket launchers to the Burmese junta.  

However, in his research paper, Burma and Nuclear Proliferation: Policies and Perceptions, Andrew Selth offered the reassurance: “It is highly unlikely that Burma currently has any intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, from North Korea and anywhere else.”

Recently, the two countries have followed different foreign policy courses, and this month North Korea scored a success when the US removed it from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The ruling, announced on October 11, followed Pyongyang’s agreement to resume dismantling its nuclear program and to allow international inspectors to monitor this work.

North Korea had shared the Washington blacklist with Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. It also found itself described by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005 as an “outpost of tyranny,” along with Burma, Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe.

While North Korea has been winning points recently with Washington, Burma continues to be castigated by the US for its failure to institute political reform and release its political prisoners.

The foreign policy focus of the US and the European Union differs between North Korea and Burma. Democracy and human rights issues are paramount in US and EU policy on Burma, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions dictate their approach to North Korea.

Both Burma and North Korea concentrate their foreign policies on guaranteeing the survival of their respective regimes. While the North Korea regime has won legitimacy by playing the nuclear weapons card, the Burmese junta has been emphasizing the seven-step roadmap towards its version of democracy.

The language employed by each side is similar, however.

North Korea’s military said in a statement on Tuesday: "The puppet authorities had better bear in mind that the advanced pre-emptive strike of our own style will reduce everything…It will turn out to be a just war— to build an independent reunified state on it."

The tone of the North Korean statement is similar to the slogans employed by the Burmese regime—such as “Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State.”

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