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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 215 (June 21, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

North Korea Engages in Active Diplomacy to Solidify Power of New Leader

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- With the official opening of the regime of its new leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has been stepping up its diplomacy to increase the young leader's image in the international arena, as well as to gain economic cooperation from other countries.

   Experts explain North Korea is moving to maintain relations with the outside world amid international scrutiny over its nuclear program and as new leader Kim Jong-un seeks to burnish his credentials at home and abroad.

   The propaganda campaign comes at a sensitive time for Pyongyang as it works to consolidate popular support for the new leader following the death of his father Kim Jong-il late last year.

   Watchers in Seoul have taken note of a recent flurry of diplomatic trips taken by North Korean diplomats to shore up relations in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

   North Korea's senior officials have been visiting China, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia, Myanmar, where economic issues topped the agenda, despite continued tension following the North's failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13.

   In late April, Kim Yong-il, secretary of the Central Committee of the North's Workers' Party, visited Beijing and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior officials, reaffirming efforts to promote bilateral ties.

   A North Korean delegation headed by its ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, toured Singapore and Indonesia in May. North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun attended a meeting of non-aligned countries held from May 5-15 in Egypt.

   In June, Workers' Party secretary Kim Yong-il made a three-nation tour of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, according to the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   North Korea's chief of general staff of the Korean People's Army, Ri Yong-ho, previously visited Laos in May to enhance military cooperation between the two countries.

   On June 14, Kim Yong-il met with Le Hong Anh, a member of the Political Bureau of Vietnam's Communist Party, who said, "We wish the party and people of the DPRK (North Korea) greater successes in the building of a thriving socialist nation under the wise leadership of Kim Jong-un," the KCNA said in an English-language report.

   According to the KCNA report, Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone, who is general secretary of the Central Committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, also met with Kim Yong-il and his entourage and discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations.

   Observers say the North is working to buoy its economy with foreign investment and aid to convince its impoverished people of improvements to come.

   When Kim Yong-il visited the Chinese president in April, he also met with other Chinese officials and exchanged views on increasing cooperative relations with the ally.

   North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, visited Singapore and Indonesia from May 10 to 17. He was accompanied by a group of economy-related officials including Ri Kwang-gun, chairman of the joint venture investment committee, and An Jong-su, light industry minister.

   Kim Yong-nam, also the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, held meetings with Singaporean president Tony Tan Keng Yam.

   According to news reports, the Singaporean side noted that the bilateral relations, which have a long history, are developing successfully thanks to the common efforts of both sides.

   The North's KCNA reported Singapore highly esteemed the DPRK for building confidence with Singapore and other countries in the region and referred to the importance of expanding and developing economic trade relations between both countries.

   Kim Yong-nam's next visit was to Indonesia, to discuss issues of common interest. On May 15, Kim met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss trade and investment during a bilateral meeting.

   According to a report from Jakarta, Indonesia's president urged North Korea to keep communication channels open to prevent misunderstandings with other countries.

   Yudhoyono discussed tensions on the Korean Peninsula in his meeting with the visiting North Korean official.

   Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said Kim told Yudhoyono that reports about the North's rocket launch in April were unbalanced and had further marginalized his country.

   An Indonesian minister said the government plans to give US$2 million of aid to North Korea to help it with its ongoing food crisis, local media reported.

   Natalegawa said the government plan was drafted long ago, but held back due to technical difficulties related to distribution of the funds.

   The Indonesian government was currently working with the World Food Program and UNICEF to ascertain the methods and forms of aid delivery to the Communist country, the minister said.

   Indonesia has maintained a strong relationship with North Korea since the time of Indonesia's founding father and first President Sukarno, and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

   The main question as North Korea strives to maintain relations with the outside world is whether it will make positive gestures toward the United States after Pyongyang's failed rocket launch scuttled a food aid deal between the two.

   Some say Pyongyang's recent announcement it has no plan to conduct a nuclear test was a gesture to Washington to rekindle their diplomacy.

   Washington says it is ready to engage Pyongyang but it refuses to perpetuate the North's cycle of provocations and negotiation.

   Analysts say the Barack Obama administration will be cautious to engage the North during election season.

   "Support from the international community and economic assistance from the outside world are essential for North Korea's new leader to maintain his regime," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korean expert and professor at Korea University in Seoul.

   The North, which has been under U.N. sanctions over missile and nuclear tests, is believed to be reaching out to others in the international community to widen its outside reliance beyond China, Yoo said.