A North Korean foreign ministry delegation led by Vice Minister Ri Kil Song departed Pyongyang on Thursday to begin a tour of Southeast Asia, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
The short state media dispatch announced that the delegation will visit Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia during the tour.
The visit follows on Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong’s extensive tour of the region in 2014, which was widely seen as a push to diversify ties, both diplomatically and economically.
“I think they are absolutely looking to diversify,” Adam Cathcart, a lecturer from Leeds University told NK News. “They are trying to line things up, they are trying to get an investor here and an investor there and I think those Southeast Asia ties are useful.”
“Another important thing is that particularly in the case of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is that they’re ideologically safe. Those are relatively friendly countries,” he said.
The vice minister’s trip will also coincide with the 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Vietnam on January 31.
Last week North Korean domestic media also reported on a meeting between the foreign minister and several ambassadors from ASEAN countries including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
According to the Pyongyang Times, Ri “informed the foreign diplomats in detail of the DPRK government’s endeavors to implement the tasks for national reunification and the stands of its foreign policy specified” in Kim Jong Un’s new years address.
The decision to send the vice minister – instead of the minister – to the DPRK’s Southeast Asian partners, while notable, does not necessarily indicate that the tour is of any less significance than in 2014.
“Often in North Korea vice ministers hold more power than actual ministers in title and I think that the fact of his rank doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s of less interest or less importance,” Cathcart said.
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