Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong has a reputation among people who have worked with him, both Koreans and foreigners, as someone who is innovative, open-minded, and results-oriented. You can read his biography at NKleadershipwatch. FM Ri is now on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia with stops in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and finally Singapore. FM Ri seems to be getting high level access, especially with meetings with Thein Sein and Jokowi in Myanmar and Indonesia.
Here is a quick roundup of headlines from FM Ri’s ASEAN tour.
Laos - Not much headlines from this leg except for the usual news about renewing fraternal ties. Its likely that the North Korean refugee issue was one of the bilateral concerns raised, as Laos is often a stopover point for North Koreans making their way out of China to the South.
Vietnam - General talk of cooperation but Vietnamese press emphasizing a focus on economic cooperation and sharing of economic development experiences. North Korea had a few public delegations last year to Vietnam via groups such as Rodong Sinmun and the Agriculture Union. Vietnam’s Women Union also visited North Korea in October last year.
Myanmar - Seems to be a productive trip with FM Ri meeting the Foreign Ministers of China and Japan. South Korean press focused on the underreporting in China and North Korea of the meeting with China FM Wang Yi. They claim the China-DPRK relationship freeze continues.
Japanese news focused on Japan FM Kishida’s meeting with FM Ri at an informal level, and that reassurances were made that the reinvestigation into the abductee issue was making progress.
Some Western analysts focused on alleged continuing military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, as FM Ri met with Thein Sein and the Minister of Defence.
Indonesia - Indonesia has been trying to play a role as a peace mediator for North Korea. President-elect Jokowi and FM Marty both met with FM Ri and intriguingly, Indonesian press mentioned that FM Ri had proposed “concrete” proposals to advance peace in the region. We will see if these proposals are truly new and whether they will gain traction with the US and South Korea.
Singapore - FM Ri is in Singapore now. Let’s see what the press comes up with. But generally, official Korean visits to Singapore tend to focus on investment attraction.