North Korean diplomats conduct rare media outreach campaign

Outreach campaign includes one-on-one interview with North Korea's ambassador to the UK
January 30th, 2014
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North Korean diplomats are making a noticeable effort to speak to international media about the importance of inter-Korean reconciliation while warning of the potential consequences of forthcoming joint U.S. – South Korean military drills.

Diplomats from DPR Korea, traditionally known for their reluctance to speak to media, have in the past week hosted press events in New York, Beijing and London to call on South Korea to turn over a new leaf in its relations with the North.

DPRK Ambassador to the United Nations Sin Son Ho read out an open letter from the National Defence Commission to South Korea in New York on Friday, urging Seoul to abandon forthcoming military drills.

This week North Korea’s Ambassador to China used a hastily organized press conference in Beijing to warn international media that the fragile nature of inter-Korean relations risked triggering an “unimaginable conflict” should reconciliation be ignored.

And following weekly emails to British media about North Korean hopes for inter-Korean détente, Sky News on Thursday conducted a remarkably probing one-on-one interview with Ambassador to the UK, Hyun Hak-bong.

In the interview, Amb. Hyun reaffirmed the need for South Korea and the U.S. to halt planned military exercises, but said that North Korea’s relations with the U.S. could be normalized if Washington abandoned its “hostile policy”.

Sky News Defence Correspondent Alistair Bunkall, who interviewed Ambassador Hyun, told NK News that although the interview had been long requested, “the Embassy ended up choosing the time, no doubt in co-ordination with Pyongyang.”

“We agreed the full interview would be made available on the Sky News website and iPad app. That way the Embassy were assured the Ambassador’s words could be heard in their full context and we could showcase this rare wide-ranging interview.

“In fairness to the Embassy we were told we could ask anything we liked, and the reality matched the promise. Of course though there was an agenda and on this occasion the interview was pegged to the open letter sent by Pyongyang to Seoul earlier this month.” Bunkall added.

That agenda, some observers say, could merely be Pyongyang attempting to build up international pressure against South Korea and the U.S. to stop planned war exercises.

“Unfortunately, it is not known right now what [North Korea] really wants: better relations with the South or a good pretext to start another tension-building campaign – while blaming the South for the crisis,”  long-time North Korea watcher Dr. Andrei Lankov told NK News. 

“The pattern is old. Under Kim Jong Un the North Korea diplomats do go to extremes: when they need crisis, they explicitly promise to nuke Austin in Texas, and when they conduct a ‘charm offensives”, they send their ambassadors to conduct  sweet talk,” Lankov added.

The drills that South Korea and the U.S. conduct each February often contribute to tension on the peninsula.

North Korea often describes the drills as training for a U.S. – ROK invasion of Pyongyang, but the U.S. and South Korea say the drills are purely defensive in nature.

Last year’s drills were carried out immediately after North Korea’s third nuclear test and contributed to unprecedented build-up of tensions on the peninsula.

Picture: NK News

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.