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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
DPRK Ministry of External Economic Relations (MEER) chief Kim Yong Jae left for China on Wednesday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, where he will attend an event focused on economic cooperation between the six Northeast Asian nations.
Kim is set to attend the 12th China-Northeast Asia (CNEA) Exposition running from August 23-27 at the Changchun International Conference and Exhibition Center in Jilin Province, which borders the DPRK.
China, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, and both North and South Korea will be represented at the expo, where each country is expected to promote their economic development, domestic products, and discuss mutual opportunities.
According to news on the expo’s official website, the DPRK, Russia, and Mongolia will each have 24 booths at the National Commodities Exhibition Hall displaying goods from their domestic companies.
Japan will have 20, it said, and South Korea will have the most with 80 booths.
North Korea’s booths are expected to display “[traditional] Korean medicine, cosmetics, ginseng products, stamps, etc.,” the official report from late July said.
Officials representing various South Korean cities and provinces are attending the event, too, according to local media reports, though it is unclear if any inter-Korean discussions are planned.
The DPRK’s presence at the CNEA Expo follows their participation in a related event — the 9th Tumen River Regional Logistics Cooperation and Development Forum — held last week in the Chinese town of Tumen, just across the border from Namyang, North Korea.
A report from the Tumen administration’s website included details of a keynote speech given by Li Zhenglou of Ocean Press under China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, who spoke of the potential economic benefits of utilizing the North’s “ice-free” Chongjin port.
At the event on August 15, Li also reportedly encouraged more cooperation in mineral resources and logistics to the Chongjin port, as well as setting up an economic park for steel production.
MEER head Kim Yong Jae last traveled to China in April to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
In a meeting during the forum with Chairman Wu Guodi of the World China General Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCGCCI), Kim reportedly said that “North Korea can learn a lot from China in developing its economy and improving the people’s livelihood,” according to the WCGCCI website.
He also reportedly expressed interest in “further development of the ‘one belt one road’ process, where entrepreneurs from both countries will have more opportunities to exchange learning.”
WCGCCI Chairman Wu, in turn, said “it is believed that in time, the business environment of the DPRK will be further significantly improved.”
He added that “China’s energy sector hopes to establish an understanding with DPRK enterprises and provide more cooperation space for the development of DPRK enterprises.”
More recently, Kim praised China’s economic development in a speech at a photo exhibition in Pyongyang earlier this month celebrating 70 years since communist China’s establishment and Beijing’s relations with the DPRK.
The ongoing exchanges between the two countries in economic cooperation follow Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pyongyang in June to meet with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, where the topic was likely a priority between the two leaders.
DPRK-CHINA EXCHANGES APLENTY
Wednesday also saw the departure of another North Korean delegation to China: a group from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) daily newspaper the Rodong Sinmun, led by deputy editor-in-chief Kim Jin Su.
Details regarding the purpose of the visit were not included in a KCNA report on the trip, but numerous past visits by Rodong delegations to China indicate the group will meet with top government officials and counterparts with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run People’s Daily news outlet.
The trip follows another related visit to China in June by a delegation of the DPRK’s Journalists Union of Korea led by Chairman of its Central Committee Cha Sung Su.
According to the People’s Daily, Cha met with the newspaper’s deputy editor-in-chief who heads up the international news department, Xu Zhengzhong, to discuss boosting media exchanges.
One result of those talks may have been the visit to Pyongyang in July by a delegation from the Information Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where increasing general media exchanges was again discussed with delegation head Lu Kang.
North Korean state media archives indicate that Rodong Sinmun delegation visits to China have not occurred, or at least have not been publicized, since a week-long visit in the fall of 2013.
During that visit, led by Rodong deputy editor-in-chief Kim Won Sok, the DPRK delegation met with multiple figures of the People’s Daily along with a member of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Prior to that year, archives show that such Rodong delegation visits to China were conducted almost every year going back to at least 1999 and likely before that as well.
Each of those visits lasted around a week, indicating the current delegation may return to Pyongyang around the end of August.
Wednesday’s delegation departures to China follow the five-day trip to Beijing earlier this week by a DPRK military delegation, led by Army General Kim Su Gil.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Embassy of China in Pyongyang