Kim Yong Nam to Singapore and Indonesia

It was reported this week by KCNA that Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Supreme People's Assembly, is to visit Singapore and Indonesia "soon". Kim Yong Nam has been head of the SPA since 1998, tasked with handling diplomatic relations for the DPRK. But he was also recently elevated to the Presidium of the Politburo of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee, which probably gives him greater participation in economic decision-making as well. (Not to suggest he was an outsider before - but he is now more central than ever.)

He also visited Singapore in 1985, when he was foreign minister and again inĀ 2007 and 2009.

Singapore is a top-ten trading partner for the DPRK - ranking varying according to whose guesswork you follow. In fact, a few months after Kim's last trip, a trade deal was signed between the two countries.

Singapore seems like the secondary concern on this trip, however, at least according to KCNA. In the short announcement on Monday, the news agency gave a paragraph on Kim going to Indonesia then a seperate paragraph, reading: "He will also visit Singapore."

Indonesia has had a "long-standing collaboration" with the DPRK, going back to the era of the non-aligned movement, whose members sought a degree of independence from the Cold War superpower rivalry. Sukarno and Kim Il Sung were not insignificant figures in that movement and had friendly personal relations: recall that it was Sukarno who gave Kim Il Sung the gift of a particular orchid he took a shine to during a state visit.

Trade between Indonesia and North Korea has dwindled since their non-aligned days and this trip is likely an attempt to reinvigorate economic ties. Indonesia's experience with restructuring its economy and managing its natural resources after the Asian Financial Crisis will likely also be of interest to Kim. One deal already struck is a media swap. Indonesia and North Korea will exchange television shows, photos, news and also plan to swap journalists at some point.

Kim received a delegation from Laos last week, while Korean People's Army's top brass we're preparingĀ to visit Vientiane. They may have even flown down together. The two countries don't have much to offer each other in terms of investment, but both are very concerned with avoiding being overwhelmed by China's rise.

Perhaps, then, we're seeing a DPRK pivot towards Southeast Asia. ASEAN, after all, subscribes to a doctrine of non-interference in domestic political systems, which suits North Korea as it seeks to diversify its sources for foreign direct investment. Southeast Asia is the logical place to look, since South Korea is fraught with difficulties and Japan has taken itself out of the game.

Or, perhaps at the end of the day, he just wanted to fly Singapore Air instead of Garuda so has to change at Changi airport.