North Korea’s foreign minister is due to visit Burma in the next 10 days prior to his possible return to a regional security forum in Hanoi on 23 July after a two-year hiatus.
Few details are known about Pak Ui Chun’s scheduled trip to Burma, which comes as party of a three-country swing through Southeast Asia, Kyodo news reported. It follows an investigation by DVB that last month revealed extensive military trade between North Korea and Burma over the past decade, as well as Naypyidaw’s attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.
While Burma has denied the nuclear allegations, it has made little mention of apparently warming relations with Pyongyang. Several sightings of North Korean technicians have been made in Burma since a high-level delegation led by North Korea’s vice foreign minister Park Kil-yon visited the country in June 2001, and DVB has unearthed evidence of major weapons sales to Burma.
A number of suspicious North Korean cargo ships have also docked at ports close to Rangoon; the last reported incident was in April this year, following which North Korean missiles and radar systems were seen being transported from Rangoon to military bases in the north. The Burmese government said however that it was a routine offloading of rice from its ally.
The US and EU has spent the past four years attempting to isolate Pyongyang in retaliation to its first nuclear test in 2006. UN sanctions were intensified in May 2009 after it tested another nuclear bomb, and analysts have warned of a potentially destabilising alliance between North Korea and Burma, two of the world’s so-called ‘rogue states’.
North Korea hasn’t sent a senior-level delegate to the ASEAN Regional Forum for two years, and the 2009 event in Thailand, which came on the heels of its nuclear test, was instead attended by a lower-ranking foreign ministry official. The forum – billed as the principal event for security dialogue in Asia – invites delegations from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as 17 other countries, including China and North Korea. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton will also attend.
It is not clear whether Pak Ui Chun has officially accepted the invitation from Vietnam: North Korea is likely nervous of any scrutiny over its ties to Burma, particularly in light of a UN embargo that bans all weapons exports, as well as heated discussion of its alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March, which it has repeatedly denied.
South Korea has been busy trying to convince the forum to censure North Korea for the sinking, while the UN last Friday issued a presidential statement condemning the incident, which killed 46 sailors.