Myanmar and North Korea reconciliation – implications for the region

Updated On: May 04, 2007

Myanmar seems to have returned to the regional limelight.

After twenty-four years, Myanmar and North Korea have resumed diplomatic ties. Ties were broken in 1983 after North Korea sent agents to assassinate the South Korean ministers who were visiting Myanmar. The deputy Prime Minister So Suk-Chun and 16 other Koreans were killed.

China and South Korea lauded the reconciliation between Myanmar and North Korea. The South Korean government spokesman said that the move would provide momentum for North Korea to open up and contribute to regional peace. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao “welcome[d] the improvement of their bilateral ties.”

However, the rapprochement between Myanmar and North Korea was viewed negatively by the Thai newspapers. Both the Nation and Bangkok Post warned thatNorth Korea might supply Myanmar with weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear ones. Moreover, Myanmar has had previously expressed desire in nuclear energy. Both papers also warned that Myanmar’s uranium supplies might be sold to North Korea, complicating regional security.

Elsewhere, the Myanmar problem would be discussed in the upcoming 18th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) to be held in Bali. The Chairman of the Indonesian Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar, Djoko Susilo called for the IPU to issue a statement on Myanmar, including on the release of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Djoko also called for Indonesia to use its place in the United Nations Security Council to lobby permanent members to freeze the assets of Myanmar. The vice-president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar (AIPMC), Aquilino Pimentel also joined in the call for the parliamentarians in Southeast Asia to do more to end the human rights abuse in Myanmar.

While the international community continues to debate over resolutions on Myanmar, the situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate. The National League for Democracy (NLD) held a two-day conference last week to discuss about the economic problems in the country. A NLD spokesman Myint Thein concluded, “Inflation is the critical source of the current economic crisis.” The moderator of the workshop, Soe Win said, “Basic commodity prices have increased from 30 to 60 percent since the military regime promoted a salary increase for government workers in April 2006.” This high rate of inflation had impeded economic development and could also be attributed to the high level of corruption in the government.

Surprisingly, in the midst of these depressing news on Myanmar, one ethnic ceasefire group, the New Mon State Party is looking forward to the upcoming elections, speculated to be held in 2008, following the conclusion of the National Convention. Despite scepticism by many groups within and without Myanmar that the National Convention is a sham, a central committee member of the New Mon State Party, Nai Aye Mon suggested that his party would be participating in the elections. Nonetheless, he qualified his optimism by saying that, “We won’t surrender our arms….. I can’t say we will fight again, but I can’t say we won’t.” (2 May 2007)


Burma-N Korea Ties Raise Concern (Bangkok Post, 30 April 2007)

Burma-N Korea Ties Need Scrutiny (Nation, 30 April 2007)

Restored Ties Will Benefit Myanmar and N Korea (Straits Times, 30 April 2007)

High Inflation Impeding Burma’s Economy, Says NLD (Irrawaddy30 April 2007)

Caucus Says Jakarta Has Power to Lean on Myanmar (Jakarta Post, 30 April 2007)

Mon Ceasefire Group Looks Toward Elections in Burma (Irrawaddy30 April 2007)

IPU Called on to Discuss Myanmar Issue (Antara, 24 April 2007)