ASIA: by Ian H. McDougallNews Weekly
Burma fast becoming China's new Tibet
, August 21, 2010
Beijing aims to lock Burma into a relationship of economic and political dependency in much the same way as it has colonised Tibet, observers linked to the Burmese democratic opposition say.
Burma - renamed Myanmar by the ruling military junta - will remain nominally independent, but the strings will be pulled by China's communist rulers.
It suits Beijing for Burma to remain nominally independent for a number of reasons. First, it allows Beijing to threaten China's main strategic Asian competitor, namely India, but also giving it deniability, in the same way it uses North Korea to threaten Japan while allowing Beijing to disclaim any hostile intent. Second, India has said that any move to formally annex Burma would be regarded as an act of war. As it is, India is bracketed on the west by one nuclear-armed Chinese ally, Pakistan, and by Burma in the east.
Burma is not nuclear-armed - yet. The Burmese regime has made no secret of the fact that it intends to develop a nuclear capability. It might seem odd that an agricultural nation with a per capita income of $200 a year, riven by a number of ongoing ethnic conflicts that perpetually teeter on the verge of breaking into civil war and devoid of strategic enemies, would want to develop nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Burma is in the midst of a military build-up.
Burma is being aided in its nuclear ambitions by China's junkyard dog, North Korea. In late July, the North Korean foreign minister Pak Ui-chun met Burmese Prime Minister Thien Sein to discuss "secret issues", according to a source close to the ruling junta.
Pak was leading a three-member North Korean delegation, which met, first, Burma's prime minister, then the foreign minister and, on the following day, the information minister.
The meeting was held in Naypyidaw, Burma's secluded capital city. The new capital city is located in the middle of the jungle, apparently because it is far away from Rangoon, the former capital, and its restive civilian population.
During 2008, a Burmese military junta delegation secretly visited North Korea via China and signed many agreements for military cooperation between the two countries, according to secret files received by opposition group Mizzima.
Washington, which has attempted a policy of limited engagement recently, suspects the Burmese junta of buying nuclear materials and technology from North Korea. Any bid to develop nuclear weapons or buy nuclear weapons from North Korea would represent a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions
In May this year, the United States assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Dr Kurt Campbell met ministers in Burma's State Peace and Development Council (the military junta's own name for itself) in the Burmese capital.
Burma's science and technology minister told the US official that Burma would fully comply with the UN Security Council resolutions; but, when the US representative raised the nuclear issue, the Burmese minister said that his country had the responsibility of safeguarding "the sovereignty of the state".
Military co-operation between Burma and North Korea is already evident on the ground. BBC Worldwide Monitoring, quoting the Democratic Voice of Burma, reported that work had been completed on a missile base featuring North Korean-made missile-launchers and radar systems, one of four such missile bases.
Reports have also surfaced that a group of North Koreans crossed into Burma from China disguised as Chinese tourists travelling in a tour bus. "There were about 30 or 40 of them and they went straight to a kind of missile development centre west of Mandalay," said Burma and North Korea expert Bertil Lintner.
How is Burma paying for this? After all, it's a poor country.
Burma, however, is rich in oil and gas, and China in October will begin constructing a pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Kunming, in China's southern Yunnan Province, shutting out India. The pipeline will carry both Burmese gas and much of China's import of gas from the Middle East and Africa.
China also monopolises the marketing of Burma's famous jade and ruby exports. China is building factories in Burma that will be manned by Chinese workers.
Even women are being traded across the border into China. Due to China's one-child policy, marriageable women are in short supply and Burmese women are often willing to swap the poverty of Burma for China's relatively higher standard of living.
Under British rule, Burma was a major rice-exporter. It's a country where no-one should go hungry.
All in all, Burma is a troubled land. Unlike North Korea, it has something to sell to the world; but China is drawing Burma into a web of dependency.
Like Tibet, which is nominally autonomous, Burma will remain legally independent, but the important decisions will be made in Beijing.
It's not a happy prospect, especially for India, not least because India requires Burmese cooperation to stem rising attacks by Maoist guerrillas using Burma as a sanctuary.