North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam on Tuesday met with nine leaders from African countries to conclude an overseas trip that has been underway since last Tuesday.
Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim on Friday had “friendly talks” with national leaders from Chad, Gabon, Central Africa, Congo and Mali. A day before, Kim met the president of Burundi and the former president of Mozambique.
“It is the consistent stand of the government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea to further expand and develop friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries,” President of Equatorial Guinea Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said Saturday when meeting Kim.
Kim, the former foreign minister of the DPRK, is in charge of representing the nation as the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), though in practice his power is far inferior to that of Kim Jong Un.
“Pyongyang tries to maintain positive relations where it can, with countries less closely tied with its rivals,” said John Grisafi, NK News director of intelligence. “They have stepped up diplomatic efforts and engaged in charm offensives when they feel it is necessary, such as after the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea.”
After the COI report was released Pyongyang requested that Uganda vote against the UN General Assembly’s human rights resolution. North Korea discussed public security cooperation with Angola last month.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Kim’s overseas travels part of a diplomatic strategy.
“We evaluate that it’s North Korea’s behavior to get out of international isolation,” said ministry spokesperson Cho Joon-hyuk on Tuesday at a regular press briefing.
Cho repeatedly urged Pyongyang to show sincere intent for denuclearization, and not to worsen their isolation.
Grisafi, however, said the recent visit is more like routine diplomacy rather than a reaction to sanctions, citing China’s example from the 1960s.
“Africa is a key continent for countries which perceive themselves as alienated from major international politics and the big players,” he said.
During the visit Kim also sent a greeting to the president of Eritrea, the only nation around the world ranked lower than North Korean in Reporters without Borders’ press freedom index.
While North Korea’s diplomacy toward African nations and Cuba appears consistent, it has also indicated active diplomacy around the nuclear issue by appointing Ri Yong Ho as its new foreign minister. Ri has served as Pyongyang’s point man for nuclear negotiations.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye is currently visiting three African countries, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, where Kim did not visit.