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View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Mongolia’s President Tsakhia Elbegdorj left North Korea on Thursday afternoon with DPRK state media providing no confirmation as to whether an expected meeting with Kim Jong Un had taken place.
Prior to Elbegdorj’s arrival South Korean media speculated that the Mongolian leader would have a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un – an encounter that would have represented the North Korean leaders’ first official meeting with another head of state.
But no information of such a meeting was released by North Korean state media, suggesting that Kim Jong Un did not in fact meet the Mongolian leader. “The lack of mention of the North Korean leader meeting Elbegdorj indicates that no summit took place,” an anonymous official told Yonhap News in South Korea.
Instead, on Elbegdorj’s last day in North Korea, North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun led with in-depth coverage of Kim Jong Un’s appearance at live-fire military drills, only mentioning the Mongolian leader on page three, in context of him meeting Premier of the DPRK Cabinet Pak Pong Ju.
“[Kim Jong Un] is too busy with military matters to waste time on frivolities like meeting the Mongolian president. His activities, however absurd, have to be reported, and a report about him trotting around Mansu Water Park, as the poor unfortunate Mongolian delegation found himself doing, would not fit the appropriate narrative,” North Korea watcher and Daily NK international editor Chris Green told NK News.
Leonid Petrov, a North Korea researcher at the Australian National University, said that Kim Jong Un’s choice to attend live fire drills over meeting with Elbegdorj indicated that military-first policies remain a key priority.
“Kim Jong Un has sent the signal to the world and domestic audience in the DPRK that the era of Songun [Army First] Policy is not going to fade away; and that economic reform is of less importance for him than military build up.
“Apolitical foreign celebrities, like Dennis Rodman, attract more attention of the North Korean leader than concerned heads of states and CEOs of multinational corporations” Petrov added, pointing out that “regional security, stability and progress are clearly of low priority for Kim Jong Un and his advisors.”
Antonio Fiori, a professor and North Korea watcher at the University of Bologna, said that it was “not really understandable why Kim Jong Un did not show up” to meet with the Mongolian leader, because “Mongolia is dramatically meaningful for North Korea, in terms of economic connections and diplomatic ties.”
But Fiori speculated that the risk of being probed about the Japanese abduction issue could be why Kim Jong Un decided that no summit meeting should take place.
“Mongolia is willing to assist Japan in finding a solution to the abduction issue, and it seemed likely that Elbegdorj could raise this issue during his visit to Pyongyang. Maybe Kim Jong Un did not want to take the risk to be asked about the issue of the Japanese abductees”.
During his trip the Mongolian leader inked economic and technology sharing agreements with North Korea and paid visits to the Kumsusan memorial palace and truce village of Pnamunjom, located in the demilitarized zone. Elbegdorj also delivered a speech to Mongolian entrepreneurs and DPRK economic officials at the Yanggakdo International Hotel.
The Mongolian president is the first foreign leader to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un assumed power in late 2011. The last summit meeting between Mongolia and North Korea took place in December 2004.