North's ambassadors stuck overseas, have to share residence

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North's ambassadors stuck overseas, have to share residence

The former and current North Korean ambassadors to China will have to share the official ambassador's residence in Beijing, according to diplomatic sources Monday, due to the North's border restrictions.
 
North Korea's newly appointed ambassador to Beijing was released from self-isolation over the weekend, but its former ambassador is unable to return to the North due to the reclusive regime's border closure due to fears of Covid-19 transmission, leading to the unusual situation.
 
The change was officially reflected on the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s website on Feb. 19 following a report by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, submitted to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly on Feb. 16, saying North Korea had appointed a new ambassador to Beijing.
 
According to diplomatic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Ri Yong-nam, the new North Korean ambassador to Beijing, arrived in the Chinese capital last month to take up his post.
 
Following China’s Covid-19 safety regulations, Ri completed the 21-day quarantine over the weekend. He reportedly traveled overland into China.
 
Given that the North has usually appointed prominent members of the Workers’ Party or career diplomats as its ambassador to Beijing, the selection of Ri Yong-nam, a former deputy prime minister, is unusual.
 
Ri worked briefly as a diplomatic consul in Thailand in his 20s, but later moved to the North Korean Ministry of External Economic Relations, becoming the department's minister at the age of 48 in 2008. 
 
Ri is also the son-in-law of Jon Myong-su, who was previously the North’s ambassador to China from 1977-83.
 
Due to the strict controls implemented by Pyongyang to prevent Covid-19 from breaching its border, outgoing North Korean ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong has been unable to re-enter North Korea.
 
Ji was appointed to the position in October 2010, when the North and China commemorated the 60th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean War.
 
The unusual cohabitation situation of the North’s ambassadors has not been remarked upon by official Chinese or North Korean sources.
 
According to diplomatic sources, there are several North Korean officials who were locked outside their country while on official business in Dandong and Shenyang in January last year. They have since been given consular posts in China.
 
One of these officials is Ri Chang-dok of the United Front Department — the department of the Workers’ Party of Korea charged with South Korea relations.
  
Ri reportedly arrived in China in January last year and has been unable to return home after the border closed.
 
Pyongyang's border control measures have also resulted in the greatest year-on-year drop in trade between North Korea and China, which fell 76 percent from 2019 to 2020.
 
The greatest decrease came in October, when trade was down 99.4 percent compared to the previous year.
 
China is the North’s largest trading partner and the source of most of the North’s vital imports.
 
BY MICHAEL LEE   [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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