Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham met the North Korean ambassador to Burma Kim Sok Chol at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on Wednesday. The meeting was focused on “mutual amity and development”, according to state-run media outlet The New Light of Myanmar.
That sentiment comes as a contradiction to President Thein Sein’s attempts to distance his government from Pyongyang since coming to power in 2011.
The issue of North Korea has been a sticking point amidst thawing relations between Burma and the US in particular, with Thein Sein predictably keen to play down any lingering ties.
Burma no longer exists as a pariah state, and much has changed since parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann visited the country in 2008. On that visit, an MoU was signed between the two outcast nations, promising Korean military aid for Burma as well as joint training exercises.
In 2010, a former military engineer turned whistle-blower, Sai Thein Win, leaked to DVB sensitive documents and photographs suggesting Burma was developing a nuclear weapons program. The documents indicated that North Korea was involved in the development of Burmese nuclear missiles, a revelation that shocked the US and other members of the international community.
Since then, the 2013 admission of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into Burmese weapons sites has allayed nuclear tensions.
Thein Sein pledged that Burma would no longer purchase arms from North Korea in 2012 during a visit by the then South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, the first time a head of state from Seoul had visited the country since 1983.
In return, South Korea offered development-aid packages in a move that promised not only to shore up Burma’s relationship with the South but with the US as well.
However the unwelcome spectre of North Korea has since revisited the Burmese-US relationship.
In 2013, The general director of the military-run firm Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Than Tun was cited by North Korean state news as saying that, “The US imperialists are now trying everything they can to lure Burma away from its alliance with North Korea. But the trade with North Korea is no doubt continuing.”
Again in 2013, the US Treasury added three Burmese corporations and a military staff official to its Specially Designated Nationals List after finding evidence that Lt-Col Kyaw Nyunt Oo, Asia Metal Company Ltd, Soe Min Htike Co Ltd and Excellence Mineral Manufacturing Co Ltd had facilitated arms trading with Pyongyang.
US nationals are forbidden to do business with those who appear on the blacklist.
The motion may point to lingering military ties between Burma and North Korea, despite the US insisting that it was a case of private individuals and companies being punished, not the Burmese government.
Military analyst and Burma expert, Bertil Lintner, told DVB last year that it would be “absolutely impossible” for arms deals to be carried out without state authorisation. “[One] would have to answer to the commander-in-chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and President Thein Sein.”
No details were released as to the matters that were discussed at Burma’s presidential palace meeting on Wednesday.