Choe Ryong-hae, who appears to have regained his status as North Korea’s number two, left for Russia on Monday as Kim Jong-un’s special envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Associated Press reported from Pyongyang.
Many notable officials are accompanying Choe on his trip, including Kim Kye Gwan, first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, No Kwang Chol, vice-chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, and Ri Yong Chol, vice department director of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea. They were seen off at the airport by other senior officials, including Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA and the person thought to be the number two just a short time ago.
Choe is expected to stay in Russia until the 24th, visiting Moscow, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. He is expected to discuss relations between North Korea and Russia, including ways to improve political dialogue and stimulate trade and economic cooperation. Choe is also expected to discuss the situation in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia with his Russian counterparts, and some international issues, according to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Since Choe is visiting Russia as Kim Jong-un’s special envoy, he is expected to deliver a letter from Kim Jong-un to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, the South Korean government announced today that it thinks Choe’s visit is part of North Korea’s efforts to diversify its foreign relations.
“North Korea is putting a lot of effort into its diplomatic activities as pressure from the international community regarding nuclear and human rights issue is increasing,” said Ministry of Unification spokesman Lim Byung-chul. “We will keep monitoring Choe to see a specific reason for the visit and the result of it,” he added.
As South Korea’s Ministry of Unification pointed out, there have been signs that North Korea wants to improve its diplomatic relations with the international community.
As one good example, North Korea unexpectedly released two detained American citizens, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, on November 8, which was widely perceived as North Korea trying to send an amicable message to the international community. In particular, it showed North Korea is trying to improve its relations with the United States for the first time since Kim Jong-un seized the power.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in South Korea, told South Korea’s YTN radio on November 10 that North Korea wanted to escape from international isolation by releasing the detained Americans, especially as it faces growing pressure for human rights issues.