North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

The French do Pyongyang


Kim Yong-nam greets Jack Lang (Photo: KCNA)

Jack Lang, Special Envoy of the President of France, arrived earlier this week in Pyongyang.  Mr. Lang  met with DPRK Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun on Tuesday, discussing “bilateral relations and a series of issues of mutual concern.”  On Thursday, Mr. Lang met with nominal head of state (and former KWP International Secretary) SPA Presidium President Kim Yong-nam and discussed the same series of issues of mutual concern.  France and Estonia are the only EU countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK.  After 1989, the DPRK retained most of its diplomatic relations with the former Warsaw Pact countries.  In 1993 and 1995 it made outreach efforts into Western Europe, not to mention implementing a joint venture law in 1984 which was bit of a dud.   The DPRK held its first working-level meetings with the EU in Brussels in 1998.  Between 2000 and 2001 it established diplomatic relations with Italy, UK, The Netherlands (hallo!) , Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.

Perhaps, among the issues Mr. Lang discussed with his interlocutors was the Ryugyong Hotel which began construction in 1987, under the 1984 joint venture law, in collaboration with a French engineering firm.  The Ryugyong is most likely one reason for the diplomatic awkwardness between the DPRK and France.   It should also be noted that the Kim Family owns an apartment in Paris which, over the years, has accommodated Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-nam and the late Ko Yong-hui.

We can now wait to see if the black Mercedes rolls up to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, and see if Jack Lang has a meeting (and banquet?) with Kim Jong-il.



3 comments on “The French do Pyongyang

  1. adamcathcart

    My bet is that Kim Jong Il is still smarting a bit from his red-carpet welcome for Wen Jiabao and won’t get near Jack Lang, even though Lang is ostensibly acting as a ministerial-level official.

    Had Sarkozy himself showed up (a la Koizumi’s 2002 gambit), then Kim would of course appear.
    Isn’t it the case that Kim Jong Il almost never deals with foreigners who aren’t current or former heads of state, Madeline Albright and Billy Graham excepted?

    The Ryugyong Hotel angle is quite an interesting one indeed. Certainly Lang is under some pressure from his side to catch up with the Germans (and the Egyptians, and the Swiss) when it comes to business ties with Pyongyang. There are even a few rumblings of French energy companies, newly connected with Kazakhstan, being interested in future contracts for energy transit into and through the Korean peninsula. Selig Harrison wrote quite a bit about this broader issue a few cycles of negotiations ago.

    (Of course the prolix Joshua Stanton thinks that Selig Harrison has a bad case of sadaechuui towards Pyongyang, therefore Harrison’s years of analysis of the energy politics of Northeast Asia must be completely invalid.)

    I have some potentially-helpful analysis of Association d’amitié franco-coréenne, the North Korean friendship group in Paris, here:

    The French socialists not only want more business ties in North Korea, they complain that the Germans have a Goethe Insitute in Pyongyang, yet French language education and cultural activities in the DPRK are at a zero point.

    This is the kind of cultural competition in East Asia that could be very good, in marginal yet potentially significant ways, for the U.S. Track II policy toward the North.

    Or perhaps the Cold War will work its magic and prevail again. That way the French can recall how bad the North Koreans treated their POWs in that nasty “police action” of the 1950s, and the Americans can keep calling the Swedes in Pyongyang whenever a couple of American swashbucklers/spelunkers/Californians decide it would be fun to skate across the Tumen River.

    I also find it interesting that Jack Lang is there for five days. But no Arirang for Lang! Only Wen Jiabao gets that pleasure. And the Russians get Tchaikovsky opera in their honor. Since Kim Jong Il seems to be emphasizing acts of cultural diplomacy with his Sino-Russian allies (and his American enemies, if you count the New York Phil or Jack Pritchard as culture), it might be interesting to see if any of his young musical prodigies in Pyongyang so much as play a single melody for their visiting French connoisseur.

  2. Werner

    In February 2008 Orascom cement was sold to Lafarge (of France).
    Is Lafarge now the majority stake holder of Sangwon cement (NK’s biggest cement factory) ?
    Thus, Pyongyang construction boom based on French cement …

  3. Pingback: North Korean Economy Watch » Blog Archive » France to open Pyongyang office

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This entry was posted on 11/12/2009 by in DPRK External Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ryugyong Hotel.

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