North Korea reinstated its Diplomatic Commission, which was abolished during the Kim Jong Il era in 1998, during the fifth session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on April 11. The measure appears to be a stepping stone to address the country’s diplomatic isolation. The long-standing policy of simultaneous pursuit of economic and nuclear development was not mentioned.
According to analysts, the decisions made at the Supreme People’s Assembly are likely the result of a strategic calculation, as they are in sharp contrast with previous threats from the North Korean media, with statements like, ‘We are ready for war with the US.’ It appears that the regime is intending to pursue a strategy of appeasement in light of the strengthening of international sanctions expected after the recent US-China summit.
In view of this development, predictions that North Korea will continue to engage in major provocations including the sixth nuclear test are being questioned. Intelligence agencies have stated that North Korea is likely to conduct a provocation to herald the arrival of Kim Il Sung’s birthday (April 15) or Military Foundation Day (April 25).
“I expected that the notion of simultaneous pursuit of economic and nuclear development would at least be briefly mentioned, but it wasn’t. It seems that the US and China agreed on US coercion and China’s role in restraining North Korea’s nuclear development at the summit, and the North Korean authorities appear to be taking into consideration this external pressure,” Cho Han Bum, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification told Daily NK.
“Although the Trump Administration has not yet clearly established its policy on North Korea, it is possible that hardline measures, including a preemptive strike, might be considered if North Korea conducts a high-intensity provocation.”
Cho added that if North Korea proceeds with its sixth nuclear test, it would mean much more than just another nuclear test, as even China is likely to respond harshly. Therefore, North Korea may be reconsidering the intensity of its provocations.
Professor Lim Eul Chul of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Kyungnam University emphasized the myriad of uncertainties inherent in the situation saying, “Kim Jong is unpredictable but Trump’s North Korea policy is also unknown. As North Korea needs to engage in dialogue and negotiations with the US, it is likely to take a careful approach now rather than directly resort to a nuclear test.”
Some point out that North Korea is trying to maintain good relations with its allies in Southeast Asia while mending relations with the US and China. North Korea now faces a dilemma as it tries to develop nuclear weapons and improve its external relations at the same time. Even its few allies have turned their backs following the Kim Jong Nam murder case and missile launches.
“Currently, North Korea is diplomatically isolated due to the sanctions. The resumed Diplomatic Commission will take a role in seeking strategies to break the isolation,” Professor Lim added.
Lee Deok Haeng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Unification, reported during a regular briefing that “North Korea is seeking contrasting double objectives, nuclear development and improvement of external relations at the same time. At present, it is noteworthy that North Korea may be interested in other objectives rather than nuclear development.”
However, considering the fact that the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] usually functions as a National Assembly, taking care of state affairs such as budget deliberation, it is being pointed out that North Korea’s foreign policy cannot be interpreted solely depending on the SPA decisions.
“It is not really unusual that messages for South Korea and other foreign countries have not been announced during the SPA. Since April is a very important month for North Korea, time is needed to predict its next move,” Lee said.
“The North Korean authorities have said, ‘North Korea has become a nuclear and a rocket powerhouse in the East” at the central report meeting for the 5th anniversary of Kim Jong Un’s reign as a supreme authority of the state and the Party.’ Although the regime says it will put more efforts into improving foreign relations, it still has ambitions for nuclear weapons and rocket development. I hope North Korea will make wise decisions,” Lee added.
The Diplomatic Commission was first announced in the North Korean Constitution in 1992, but was deleted in the 1998 amendment. The Ministry of Unification surmises that the Commission was active until 1998 and was then effectively abolished based on North Korean media reports.
The SPA nominated Ri Su Yong, vice-chairman of the Central Commission, as chairman of the Diplomatic Commission and the nominated Commission members are, Ri Yong Nam, vice-premier of the Cabinet, Ri Son Kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, Kim Jong Suk, chairwoman of the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Kim Kye Gwan, first vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Dong Son, vice-chairman of the General Federation of Korean Trade Unions, and Jung Yong Won, secretary of the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League (formerly known as the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League).
Among the nominated members, Ri Su Yong is a veteran diplomat who has been active in Europe, including Geneva, for 30 years. Ri Yong Nam is known as an expert on foreign economic cooperation who graduated from the Beijing Foreign Studies University. Ri Son Gwon participated in the second chief delegate meeting of the inter-Korean military talks in October, 2006. Kim Kye Gwan is a well-known US negotiator who led the September 19 joint statement and the October 3 agreement, where he served as a representative of North Korea’s chief delegate for the six-party talks.