Kim Jong Un to begin diplomatic career on high difficulty setting

Russia has invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to a ceremony marking the end of the Second World War in May, Japanese news outlet Asahi Shimbun has claimed.

If Kim were to attend the Russian ceremony, it would mean his first state visit since coming to power in 2011.

Quoting anonymous diplomatic sources, the Asahi Shimbum article claimed that during the visit Kim would likely meet Russia President Vladimir Putin, with the hope of cooperating on Russian natural gas exports to South Korea.

Although the article said that it was unknown if Kim would accept the offer, experts question Russia’s motivation for extending the invite in the first place.

This appears to be the quid-pro-quo for Russia’s support of North Korea in its fight to avoid having Kim Jong Un personally charged with crimes against humanity by the UN. It also seems to be something of a triumph of hope over experience: North Korea has a long record of promising faithfully to do things, and then simply not doing them.

The problem would seem to be that while the occasion of Kim Jong Il’s death has seen a flurry of profiles painting his son as a ruthless master manipulator, there is really nothing to indicate that he is anything other than what he appears to be: a laid-back, slightly dopey guy who would rather just sink a few beers in front of ESPN, but who has found himself – through no fault of his own – in charge of the world’s last totalitarian regime

This, it seems, is why he never meets his foreign counterparts. While Kim Jong Il was genuinely a reclusive weirdo, in the case of the current Dear Leader, it seems that his officials are merely terrified that if locked in a room with a more skilful or experienced politician – which is to say, more or less any of them – he will just agree to a bunch of incredibly dumb shit (handy historical parallel).

For a long time it merely seemed that North Korea’s backroom boys were biding their time, training KJU for the role (he was only formally picked as heir a year before the death of Kim Non-threatening boysJong Il, when it became apparent that none of the other candidates wanted or were suitable for the job). The assumption was that they would gradually ease him into high-stakes diplomacy via an initial meeting with someone nice and unintimidating: Tsakiagiin Elbegdorj seemed like a strong contender.

Time dragged on, however, and the proposed meeting never took place. Even when foreign public figures have visited Pyongyang in the past, none have been admitted into the presence. As Marcus Noland put it:

Eric Schmidt, the leader of possibly the most innovative firm in the world, and Dennis Rodman, circus act, come to town.  Which one do you meet with?

The only possible conclusion is that the OGD has a very low opinion of Kim’s intelligence indeed. And now they’ve been pushed into leaving him alone with the shirtless horse-rider himself? That’s a meeting I’d pay money to see.

Unfortunately, all the historical precedents seem to indicate that the North Koreans will simply refuse to let him go. Ah well.

As for the Russian side, the Western media has tended to interpret the ever closer relationship between Russia and North Korea as a sign of Moscow’s desperation. Well, whoever smelt it dealt it, as we say in IR. It seems more likely that the Russians are aiming for some sort of diplomatic coup like a restart of the six-party talks, so that they can wave the documents under the Obama administration’s nose and point out that they can invade their neighbours, block any and all UN interventions and still have a less deleterious effect on global peace and security than Mr. Nobel Prize.  As Sergei Lavrov put it, ‘Sometimes big boys play games…’


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