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Kim Jong-un flaunts his extensive New Year’s mailing list

Feb 05,2020
Despite North Korea’s current containment policy to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus which originated in China, leader Kim Jong-un has been keeping up with diplomatic engagement through the exchanging of letters and New Year’s cards with world leaders.

The North’s official Rodong Sinmun reported Tuesday that leader Kim Jong-un sent New Year’s cards to heads of state, political party leaders and public figures of different countries.

Kim sent New Year’s cards to the presidents of countries including China, Russia, Cuba, Laos, the Maldives, Myanmar, Mongolia, Syria, Singapore, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Vietnam. The countries appeared in the article in the order listed.

North Korea appears to be paying special attention to China lately, and the Rodong Sinmun report notably listed Chinese President Xi Jinping first, above Russia.

In last year’s report on the transmission of New Year’s cards, Russian President Vladimir Putin had been listed first.

On Sunday, the North’s state media reported that Kim had sent Chinese President Xi Jinping a condolence letter in regards to the coronavirus outbreak, conveying “his sincere feelings of wanting to share the suffering and trials of the fraternal Chinese people” and offering to “help even a bit.”

A high-ranking North Korean defector requesting anonymity said, “When North Korea conveys a list of attendees of various events or those receiving Chairman Kim’s greetings, there is weight in the order that they appear in as it indicates their rank of importance. Unlike last year, this year, China was listed first, which indicates its [the North’s] intentions for a policy of friendly ties with China.”

Kim separately sent New Year’s greetings to Chinese politicians including Li Zhanshu, chairman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress, Wang Huning, a member of the standing committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and Song Tao, head of the International Department of the Central Committee.

Figures like Li have visited Pyongyang, while the others greeted Kim at the train station when the North Korean leader visited China. Thus, they can be considered important figures in China’s policy toward North Korea.

In a ruling Workers’ Party meeting at the end of last year, Kim warned he could seek a new way amid a stalemate in negotiations with the United States and said he does not see a reason to continue to stick to the commitment to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Jin Hee-gwan, a professor of unification studies at Inje University, said, “During the party meeting at the end of last year, Kim referred to a path away from negotiations with the United States, and it appears that he is working toward garnering support from Beijing as a visit to China has become difficult due to the coronavirus.”

State media also reported leader Kim sent a congratulatory message to Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong on Monday marking the 90th founding anniversary of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

North Korea and Vietnam last Friday celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the two countries’ leaders also exchanged letters at that time. Kim met Nguyen on March 1, 2019, in Hanoi a day after his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

There was no mention of a New Year’s card being sent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, Kim sent greetings to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The number of New Year’s cards that Kim sent out to world leaders in the past three years has decreased with 30 sent out in 2018, 26 in 2019 and 25 this year.

The number of New Year’s cards sent to heads of international organizations and pro-North groups increased compared to the previous year, with six sent in 2019 and 16 this year.

State media reported Monday that Kim had received New Year’s cards from the leaders of countries including the Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Belarus, as well as leaders of international agencies including the director-general of Unesco “and other personages of China, Japan, Germany, France, the United States and Australia.”

A Seoul government official said, “North Korea usually sends New Year’s cards coinciding with the Lunar New Year as a response to figures who have sent similar greetings.

However, because of the coronavirus outbreak this year, travel overseas and diplomacy has become difficult, it appears to have expanded its scope of its diplomacy through letters and New Year’s cards.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]