A delegation of Russian lawmakers from the State Duma was scheduled to begin a trip to North Korea on Thursday to strengthen inter-parliamentary ties.
The group is set to hold meetings with the leadership of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) over the coming days.
According to the official DumaTV website, meetings are also scheduled between members of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee (WPK CC) and delegation leader Sergey Neverov, who serves as Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federal Assembly’s lower house.
The trip follows an extended visit by members of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) last month, where joint economic projects were discussed in addition to boosting inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Both delegations were invited by North Korea as part of celebrations over the 70th anniversary of the signing of agreements on economic and cultural cooperation between the DPRK and the Soviet Union.
Another State Duma lawmaker Kazbek Taisayev, who was originally slated to lead the delegation, said last month the visit would also focus on creating inter-parliamentary groups with the participation of South Korean lawmakers as well.
“The groups of friendship – the Russian group and the North Korean group – actively supported the creation of this venue,” Taisayev told Russia’s TASS News Agency in early March.
“[The South Korean parliamentary members] are also ready to join this work: we met, and they are interested in creating this venue,” he added.
South Korea’s new unification minister Kim Yeon-chul, meanwhile, signaled on Thursday that his ministry “will actively make efforts to hold inter-Korean parliamentary talks,” according to the Yonhap News Agency.
Details of the State Duma delegation’s arrival in Pyongyang and initial activities have yet to emerge, though a separate DumaTV report stated that the trip was approved earlier this week to last from April 11-16.
The group’s arrival coincides with the wrapping up Friday of a trip to North Korea by a group of lawmakers from the Legislative Assembly of the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East.
Led by the body’s chairman Vyacheslav Loginov, the group met with chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee Ri Su Yong on Wednesday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, though further details were not provided.
The Russian embassy in Pyongyang on Friday elaborated on the group’s activities since arriving in Pyongyang on Monday, reporting that the delegation visited a catfish farm, a garment factory, and a dental clinic in the city of Pyongsong.
It also said talks were held with the leadership of South Pyongan Province, where the two sides discussed “issues of cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, including tourism and education.”
“The parties agreed to continue negotiations in order to sign an agreement on twin-town relations between the Amur region and South Pyongan Province by the end of this year, which will allow for the transfer of issues of bilateral cooperation to a practical plane,” the Russian embassy added.
According to the Amur Region Legislative Assembly’s official website, Amur and South Pyongan previously signed a cooperation agreement in 2011, while a delegation from Amur previously visited North Korea in 2012.
A South Pyongan Province delegation led by provincial party committee deputy chairman Chon Myong Sik also traveled to Amur in October 2018, the site reported, saying the two sides discussed “ways to further develop business relations at the interregional level” and “intensify contacts between legislative bodies.”
It also said “members of both delegations spoke in favor of deepening cooperation in areas not affected by international sanctions, expressed their willingness to make efforts to find additional points of growth in trade and develop new directions partnerships,” highlighting their historical cooperation in the logging and wood-processing industries.
North Korea’s vice department director of the WPK Central Committee Han Man Hyok, who serves under Ri Su Yong in the committee’s International Department, also met the group from Amur in Pyongyang this week, according to the Russian embassy.
Han was part of a North Korean delegation which traveled to Moscow in early March to take part in the 9th DPRK-Russian Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) for Cooperation in Trade, Economics, Science, and Technology.
While the North’s Minister of External Economic Relations Kim Yong Jae led the economic side of the talks that week, Han held separate political discussions with major Russian political party leaders focused on inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group Anthony Rinna told NK News on Friday that “Amur has been one of the Russian provinces that is key to cooperation with North Korea,” but that it is also “one of the Russian areas most affected by UN sanctions that bans new or extended work contracts to North Korean laborers.”
Rinna said that while governments of regions such as Amur have been trying to find replacements for these workers as the December 22 deadline for their expulsion looms, “Russian officials have also decried the logistical difficulties of repatriating the tens of thousands of DPRK workers within the two-year frame as required by international law.”
“Nevertheless, Russia is keen not to be seen as violating sanctions, and officials in Moscow have refused requests from regional governors to flout UN sanctions regarding North Korean migrant employees.”
He said one of the key issues discussed during a visit to Pyongyang by Russia’s interior minister last week was how to handle the required repatriation of workers to the North by the end of this year, and that such issues were likely on the agenda in talks with the Amur delegation this week as well.
As for the inter-parliamentary cooperation in general, he told NK News it appears the State Duma visit is being handled as a “follow-up” to the Federation Council delegation’s visit to Pyongyang last month.
“Given that the Supreme People’s Assembly is a unicameral body, the Russian government may feel it prudent to have members of both houses of Russian lawmakers meet with their North Korean colleagues,” Rinna said.
He also pointed out that there is one North Korean SPA member in charge of relations with the Russian Federation: Hong So Hon.
Hong held talks last month with the Federation Council delegation leader and chairman of the DPRK-Russia Friendship Parliamentary Group Oleg Melnichenko, and serves as his counterpart in the position in the SPA.
Rinna added that the timing of the inter-parliamentary meetings set for this weekend “is interesting not only given the fact that it takes place relatively shortly after the Russian senators’ visit, but follows on the heels of the SPA’s most recent session.”
The North’s rubber-stamp legislative body held its first session since March elections on Thursday, which saw a number of high-level leadership shakeups and even the subtle announcement of a new title for leader Kim Jong Un.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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