The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
Closer Burma-N Korea Ties a Serious Cause for Concern
By YENI Monday, June 29, 2009

Recent evidence of the closer relationship between Burma and North Korea exposes the complete failure of the Burmese regime’s diplomacy and foreign policy in the face of increasing pressure by international and regional governments.

With Burma losing face internationally and regionally since the ruling junta put Aung San Suu Kyi’s on trial, the Burmese generals are anxious for their traditional ally to stand by their side.

The relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) deteriorated when Thailand, as current Asean chair, issued a public statement in May on Suu Kyi's trial, saying the "honor and credibility" of its troublesome member, Burma, was "at stake."

Moreover, Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, whose country is one of Burma's biggest foreign investors and has close relations with the Burmese junta, said bluntly that the general election planned for 2010 must be inclusive and that the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Suu Kyi, must be part of the process of national reconciliation.

Goh, chairman of the city state’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, also said that Singapore investors will likely wait until after the election before pouring any more money into the country.

Although it is too early to say that closer ties with North Korea could be a response to assertions on Burma by the Asean members, it is clear that recent developments have greatly added to worries that the two pariah states are becoming a double threat to regional security.

The mysterious voyage of the North Korean cargo ship, the Kang Nam 1, which is believed to be heading for Burma, and is currently being shadowed by the US Navy, and the leaking of documents and video footage showing caves and tunnels being constructed in Burma with the help of North Korean engineers, have raised suspicions in the region that the facilities are connected to Burmese plans for a nuclear reactor.

Some analysts said that fears about the acquisition of unconventional weapons by Burma are not totally unfounded. "Given North Korea's nuclear trade to Syria, its attempts to sell Scuds to Myanmar [Burma], and its ongoing sales of conventional arms, there's reason to be worried about a WMD relationship," Michael Green, a Burma expert and former adviser to then-President George W Bush told the Wall Street Journal recently.

For several years, the Burmese junta has been trying to foster relations with countries which are antagonistic towards the US—especially North Korea, which has constructed 8,200 underground facilities, including 180 munitions factories, to house key government offices and military command posts in case of war.

Observers say that the Burmese ruling generals take a hostile approach to the US because of its economic sanctions and have become paranoid about a possible US invasion of their country. These are the main reasons for speeding up a reengagement with North Korea.

In 1983, North Korean spies operating in Burma planted a bomb at the Martyr’s Mausoleum in Rangoon, where the country's forefathers lie, killing 18 South Korean officials, including four ministers.

Burma broke all ties with North Korea as a result. However, in its anxiety to procure the arms and technology to develop its armed forces, the Burmese regime later resumed diplomatic ties without securing any apology from North Korea.

Although it is not yet clear whether the tunneling projects in and around Napyidaw are to afford the paranoid junta protection from its own people or from the outside world, it proved again that the top Burmese generals have dug themselves deeper into isolation over the past few years.

The generals' bunker-mentality has been in place since 1962 when they took power from Burma's last democratically-elected government. Burma always defends itself as a sovereign state, surrounded by friendly neighboring countries that seek Burma’s natural resources, but sanctioned by Western countries led by the US. In fact, the junta usually uses that as a shield behind which it can continue its human rights violations, confident that its neighbors will treat them as Burma’s "internal affair."

Now Burma shows its true colors by developing ties with North Korea, one of the world’s most treacherous countries, which threatens to unleash a nuclear war.
So it is not too early to say that the closer relationship developing between Burma and North Korea should alert the world to a state of affairs that can only deepen global and regional tensions.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group |