North Korea's foreign minister, once Kim Jong-un's guardian, makes Asia diplomacy debut

But no hoped-for talks with Japan or the United States likely on minister Ri Yu-song's visit

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2014, 5:23pm


North Korea’s new foreign minister arrived in Myanmar’s remote capital of Naypyidaw on Saturday to make his first appearance on the regional diplomatic stage.

Ri Su-yong, who became the country’s top diplomat in April, will take part on Sunday in the Asean Regional Forum, Asia’s biggest annual security gathering, joined by his counterparts from nearly 30 countries including China, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Ri was known as a guardian of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un when he studied at an international school in Switzerland in the 1990s.

In addition to the one-day meeting, where North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes along with maritime tensions in the South China Sea will come under the spotlight, Ri may have informal or formal talks with the foreign ministers of China, Japan, Mongolia and Myanmar during his stay possibly through Monday, according to diplomats.

Ri’s attendance at the forum comes after North Korea recently launched a series of short-range ballistic missile tests in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Despite no progress being made in disarming North Korea, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions on the country last month in exchange for opening a fresh investigation into its nationals abducted in the 1970s and 1980s by Pyongyang agents.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will seek to have an informal chat with Ri.

Japanese diplomats ruled out the possibility of Kishida holding official talks, apparently in consideration of the United States and South Korea, which are concerned that Japan’s recent active engagement in negotiations with North Korea could drive a wedge into trilateral coordination to rein in Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programmes.

It is most likely that US Secretary of State John Kerry will not meet Ri, despite Pyongyang’s strong interest in coming back to the negotiating table with Washington.

“There is no plan for that. Nor do I anticipate that’s something that would take place,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier this week during a regular press briefing.

Before his arrival in Myanmar, Ri visited Laos and Vietnam. He is scheduled to travel to Indonesia and Singapore after attending the regional security forum.

After assuming his post, Ri spent about one month first visiting various countries in Africa and the Middle East.