North Korea has opened a new embassy office at a prestigious fifteenth-floor address in downtown Singapore, photos published by Aram Pan’s DPRK 360 and the website of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed on Wednesday.
The move to 1 North Bridge road’s High Street Centre building, which comes amid tightening new sanctions and pressure on North Korea, is notable for its high-end location, adjacent to Singapore’s parliament house building, Supreme Court and national gallery.
The new location is not cheap, Singapore’s Commercial Guru website indicates, with office rents at the building costing as high as $17,312.40 to as low as $1937.99 per month, depending on the size and type of office.
In contrast, Thae Yong Ho, a former number two diplomat who in August defected from North Korea’s London embassy, revealed on Monday that his former Ambassador earned just $1,100 per month, raising questions as to how Pyongyang might be financing the Singapore move.
One observer with knowledge of the change, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of speaking to media, speculated it may have related to problems with the embassy’s former address, which was “awful and did not give a good impression.”
The embassy was previously located at 60 Joo Chiat Lane, about a fifteen minute drive from Singapore’s Changi airport, in what one local rental website describes as a five bedroom “bungalow house“.
The former location was just minutes from the office of OCN Singapore PTE LTD, which has been linked to a major new development project in Pyongyang, as well as the registered office of Myohyang Honghwa Food Co., Ltd, a North Korean-linked firm whose director, Leonard Lai, has been linked to sanctioned entity Ocean Maritime Management.
The address change indicates that relations between the two countries might not be as strained as recent events would suggest.
In July, for example, Singapore announced it would begin to impose visa requirements on North Korean visitors to the country, and the city-state has found itself under increasing pressure to properly enforce UN sanctions against the numerous DPRK-linked entities for which it is a safe haven.
“Given (Singapore’s) prominence it is also more inclined to closely follow UN and other multilateral regimes,” Andray Abrahamian, an Honorary Fellow at Macquarie University, said.
“This may have slightly strained relations – see the new visa requirement and the Chinpo Shipping fine, for example – but probably not too badly,” he said. “The moving of the embassy probably is unconnected.”
“Singapore has long been a hub for finance and logistics in Asia, including for the North Koreans.”
The new embassy’s waiting room includes a panorama photo-poster of Pyongyang taken by Aram Pan of the DPRK 360 website, his photos indicate.
Main picture: DPRK360.com
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