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Nuclear Burma and a new ‘axis’?

ICC Note: New dynamics now in play that revelation of Burma’s nuclear intentions are publicized. Alliance among the worst religious freedom violators is ominous–North Korea, China, and Burma.

6/11/10 Burma (DVB) – One evening in late November 2006, workers at a port south of Rangoon were greeted by the sight of a North Korean cargo vessel approaching; several hours earlier the boat had put in a distress call to Rangoon claiming it had encountered technical problems, and was allowed to drop anchor. An inspection by Burmese authorities “found no suspicious material or military equipment” on board, and the boat was patched up and sent back out to sea. The incident was kept under wraps and garnered little attention in the media, for the two pariahs had only just resolved a 23-year feud that saw them freeze diplomatic ties, and relations were still icy; it was a tentative first toast to the renewed friendship, a courtesy act by Burma.

But seven months later, on 21 May 2007, a second North Korean vessel, the Kang Nam 1, put in a similar distress call as it navigated the Andaman Sea close to Burma’s southern coast, and Thilawa port, 20 miles south of Rangoon, opened its doors. Exactly what was onboard the Kang Nam 1 that day in May 2007 has remained a mystery, but the port-call was one of the first indicators of an alliance that has brought much of the Western world, and several regional players, standing to attention.

The two countries are perhaps the world’s most secretive; alarmingly little is known of life inside the borders of the DPRK, while the Burmese generals’ relocation of the capital in 2005 to deep within the jungle symbolises their perennial retreat away from international eyes. Both justify their hermit tendencies – to their own populations and to frustrated visiting diplomats – with talk of state sovereignty and the need to repel foreign invasions. In North Korea, that became a more tangible concern for the Kim Jong-il regime following global condemnation of its first nuclear test in 2006, but for Burma’s generals, their almost pathological fear of the West was to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Until last week, that is: revelations about Burma’s nuclear ambitions and the depth of its relationship with North Korea have left interested parties wondering how the two countries managed to both circumvent tough sanctions, and hide this alliance from the world. Everything from excavating machinery for Burma’s underground military bunker system to missile components has been passed over from North Korea, and the trade appears to be a healthy one: one of many purchase orders for the bunker project, which includes “Tunnel drill equipment” and ‘Bombproof & sealing system”, and is cited to a “Korean seller”, was billed at $US21.5 million.

And no-one will feel these concerns more than the US. With two wars raging in the Middle East and decades-long fears of a red tide sweeping Latin America, the US has focused attention away from Southeast Asia since its bloody departure from Vietnam in the 1970s. Ironically, US senator Jim Webb, who last week cancelled a trip to Burma as evidence of its nuclear programme began to trickle out, had paid a visit to South Korea days prior to mark the commencement of the Korean War. He told a memorial ceremony in Seoul that the 1950-53 conflict had “provided Asia with a balance and a guarantee of stability and prosperity that were unimaginable when the war began”.

Those words now hang like diving bells over the region, as the formation of another sinister nexus, or what Bushites would likely coin the new ‘axis of evil’, appears to be well underway. The situation appears to have worsened for the US since former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in 2005 brand Burma, along with North Korea, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Iran, as “outposts of tyranny”, because the chains between at least two of these have been fastened.

And over the two stand China, the great puppeteer of the East, and the first real threat to US global dominance since the fall of the Soviet Union. The billion or so cogs driving the Chinese wheel have steered it to friends in the darkest of corners, with Burma now economically subservient and diplomatically dependent on its northern neighbour. Burma’s multi-billion dollar gas sales to China have largely financed the nuclear programme and supported burgeoning trade with Pyongyang. In turn, the US and UK have been unable to pass any substantial legislation on Burma in the UN security council because China stands in the way, and shows no signs of moving.

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