North Korea may be interested in investing in Nepal’s hydroelectric and agriculture industries, the new DPRK ambassador to Kathmandu reportedly said during a meeting with the speaker of the country’s parliament over the weekend, according to a report posted on Facebook and carried by multiple local news outlets.
Ambassador Jo Yong Man, who took over the role in January, met in Kathmandu to discuss bilateral relations with Speaker of the House of Representatives Krishna Bahadur Mahara, a member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the report says.
Jo also reportedly expressed hopes of “strengthening” DPRK-Nepali ties, mentioning interest in investment in the context of cooperation between “sister cities” in the two countries.
It is unclear how North Korea intends to get involved in such sectors, though possibilities could include Pyongyang contributing expertise or laborers to projects in Nepal.
The two countries have a history of cooperation in the hydroelectric sector: in 2015, 54 North Korean laborers working on the construction of a power plant were reportedly deported after an investigation found them to be working illegally.
The signing of new contracts for North Korean laborers abroad, as well as operating joint ventures with North Korean entities, are currently prohibited under international sanctions.
The Speaker, in turn, was reported over the weekend to have said relations are “very strong and prosperous,” and spoke positively of the ongoing peace process on the Korean peninsula.
He also called for an inter-parliamentary friendship group to be formed, saying it could serve as a forum for sharing experiences between the two countries.
Jo, who previously served as North Korea’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, presented his credentials on January 7, following the departure of former ambassador Kim Yong Hak last November.
Shortly after entering the role, Jo met with Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and invited him to visit Pyongyang “at an appropriate time,” according to local outlet Online Khabar.
The last time a top Nepalese official was invited to the DPRK, however, the trip was ultimately canceled, apparently due to pressure from the United States.
In January 2018, former ambassador Kim Yong Hak invited ex-prime minister and now NCP co-chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as Prachanda) to visit Pyongyang for foundation day celebrations in September.
While Dahal initially agreed, he later canceled the trip in August in order “to maintain good relations with the international community, including western countries,” an NCP spokesperson told The Himalayan Times.
The U.S. had in recent years pushed allies such as Nepal to stay committed to punishing North Korea for their pursuit of nuclear weapons by enforcing sanctions and encouraging the cutting of diplomatic ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali in Washington last December, where the two discussed “Nepal’s central role in a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific” as well as “global issues, including North Korea,” a State Department report said.
The Himalayan Times reported that Pompeo took the opportunity to encourage Kathmandu to use their close communist party-to-party relations to press the North on denuclearization.
The NCP came to power in May 2018 as a result of a merger between two communist parties, forming a majority government after parliamentary elections the previous year.
According to Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two countries formed diplomatic relations in 1974, with the DPRK establishing their embassy in Kathmandu the same year.
Nepal does not maintain an embassy in Pyongyang, however, with their ambassador in Beijing also serving as ambassador to the DPRK.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Facebook of Nepal House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara
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