North Korea currently has high-ranking envoys in Russia, Cuba and Africa, according to the NK News KCNA Watch Data tool, in what could be a reaction to tense relations with the South.
The chairman on North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly Choe Thae Bok left for Russia yesterday, an article in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) revealed, but provided little further information on the visit.
Russia’s Interfax News Agency expanded on the report, saying the DPRK envoy will meet with Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, the most powerful woman in Russian politics.
“On Tuesday Valentina Ivanovna Matviyenko will hold a formal meeting with the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), Choe Thae Bok,” a spokesperson for the Russian parliament’s upper house said in comments carried by Interfax.
Mativiyenko is currently sanctioned by the U.S. under a presidential executive order signed last August over the Russian government’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
At the time, an Obama administration official referred to the sanctioned individuals as Putin’s “cronies,” according to Business Insider.
Choe’s dispatch could indicate the visit is more than just a diplomatic meet and greet.
“He is a somewhat influential official holding multiple significant party posts. He also has experience in foreign relations, as he was previously the director and secretary for international affairs in the WPK,” NK News intelligence director John Grisafi said.
“His going abroad suggests more substance than ceremony and he likely has more authority to work out something meaningful and not simply be a token presence,” Grisafi added.
On the same day, North Korea also dispatched Political Bureau member and secretary of the Party Central Committee Kang Sok Ju to Cuba.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) article was also thin on detail. What is known is that Kang also has experience in international relations.
“Kang Sok Ju also has a focus on foreign affairs and is currently international affairs secretary for the party. In many cases with North Korea, the party official responsible for a given issue is usually more seriously influential than their counterpart in the government ministries,” Grisafi said.
The DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong also arrived today in Equatorial Guinea, in what is likely the first visit on what the KCNA called a tour of “some African states” on June 18.
The diplomatic tour to Africa by a high-ranking official is the second of its kind in within nine months, with North Korea’s de facto head of state Kim Yong Nam visiting Uganda, Sudan and the Republic of Congo in October last year.
North Korea’s sudden outreach could be in response to ongoing tensions with its Southern neighbor.
“The reason why Russia and North Korea seem to be actively talking is because the DPRK really has no other allies as its relations with China, Japan and ROK have been unstable to say at the least,” Cho Han-bum, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) told NK News.
The DPRK has also reacted negatively to the opening of a UN office in Seoul tasked with investigating its human rights abuses.
On Monday the DPRK withdrew from an international sporting event to be held in Gwangju, citing the new office as the principal reason for not participating.
“The DPRK would not be able to attend the games because of the UN office that is planning on an investigation on Kim Jong Un’s human rights violations,” Cho added.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo also suggested that the DRPK’s sudden interest in diplomacy could be a reaction to the ongoing drought.
The KCNA and various international aid groups have drawn attention to ongoing low levels of rainfall that could have serious results for the DPRK’s fragile agricultural sector, leaving North Korea with large shortfalls in production this year.