China has withdrawn its opposition to a UN report suggesting that North Korea has supplied Burma and other pariah states with nuclear material.
The report is said to be making its way to the Security Council after six months spent in limbo due to Beijing’s opposition. “Last week, China chose to keep silent when the sanctions committee asked its members – the 15 nations on the Security Council – if they had any objections to the report. That allowed it to formally move to the council,” Reuters said.
The 75-page document details suspicions that North Korea, which has been under tight UN sanctions since it carried out two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has supplied banned material to Naypyidaw, as well as Syria and Iran, according to Reuters, which has seen the report.
While the focus of the Council’s discussion will centre on how to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang, the passing of the report will likely strike a blow to any nascent cooperation between North Korea and Burma.
While there is yet no hard evidence that North Korea has supplied Burma with proliferation material, a nuclear programme was uncovered in Burma earlier this year following a five-year investigation by DVB, which has also monitored the steadily warming relations between Naypyidaw and Pyongyang. This appears to have developed under the watchful eye of China, which has rapidly become the economic and political powerhouse of the region.
Dr Ian Storey, a China expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told DVB that the change in tack from Beijing, which has in the past blocked UN resolutions on both countries, may signify its growing fears over regional security.
“It’s clearly not in China’s interest to have a nuclear power on its borders, either North Korea or Burma,” he said. “It’s too little too late in the case of North Korea, but maybe this is a signal to the Burmese government that China really does oppose it going down the path towards a nuclear weapon.”
Burma last week held elections for the first time in two decades, despite the polls being roundly condemned by much of the international community. China however hailed the event as a “step forward”, and will likely seek to boost already substantial investment in the coming years.
It is the economic and diplomatic support provided by China that has largely given the regime its political immunity, and provided a crutch for the generals in the face of sanctions from the West.
One diplomat however told Reuters that while Burma and Syria had clearly been happy that China had blocked the report, the latest development shows that China now “has other priorities”.
Storey said however that Burma “is frankly an embarrassment” to Beijing, and the nuclear threat “makes the situation worse for China,” which has already warned Naypyidaw about border stability following the elections.