April 27, 2007


Rogues of the world unite (Clifford McCoy, 4/28/07, Asia Times)

One advantage for North Korea in normalizing bilateral relations with Myanmar would be to establish a formal diplomatic channel to pressure the junta to crack down on North Korean refugees escaping across the Chinese border, traveling through Myanmar and across to Thailand, from where they are repatriated to South Korea. Growing refugee flows have become a point of embarrassment for Pyongyang and it undoubtedly would like to see the route through Myanmar severed. Myanmar security forces would also likely have knowledge of the movement of North Korean refugees through their contacts with ethnic insurgent ceasefire groups along the Chinese border and hence would be in a position to interdict the refugees if ordered to do so.

Yet there are also risks to normalizing ties. South Korea has become one of Myanmar's leading trade partners and a major investor, and establishing formal diplomatic relations with North Korea could risk antagonizing the budding commercial relationship. The decision will likely also be unpopular with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, particularly with member countries Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Myanmar is a member of the grouping.

Myanmar's apparent desire to acquire power-projection capabilities makes Thailand in particular nervous, considering the two traditional adversaries share long stretches of contested border areas and Bangkok has quietly provided sanctuary and support to armed ethnic insurgent groups. Myanmar's army and Thai security forces have occasionally clashed in recent years.

Meanwhile, both Malaysia and Singapore would likely view any sort of North Korean military presence in the region as a destabilizing influence. Myanmar's attempts to acquire SRBMs, submarines and nuclear capability from Pyongyang could spark a new arms race, one that few regional governments could afford.

The SPDC may be hoping that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with North Korea will give it an ally against Western pressure, especially from the US. It may turn out, however, that the opposite is true. Both regimes have well-documented histories of human-rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, human trafficking and forced labor, and establishing formal bilateral relations and strategic linkages will likely make the US and the European Union take greater notice of their interactions.

The US already views Myanmar as a rogue state and some US politicians called for adding Yangon to President George W Bush's "axis of evil" after the SPDC's violent attack in May 2003 on democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade. Until now, Myanmar has not been a strategic concern to the US, but a substantial improvement in Myanmar's military capabilities and closer ties with a proliferating North Korea could quickly change that calculus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 27, 2007 12:00 AM

Yes, please draw our attention, please encourage India and Australia and Thailand to come together.

Please continue to draw as much attention to yourselves as possible. It's like the criminal shouting, "You'll never take me alive, copper!" And the cop replying, "Okay."

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 27, 2007 2:05 PM

Is Burma a Chinese client state too? Are there 40,000 "trip wire" US troops in Burma?

If not, I don't think our restraint against NoK will be a good model for the generals in Burma to rely on.

Posted by: Bob at April 27, 2007 3:05 PM