VMar Choe Ryong, Director of the KPA General Political Department and Member of the KWP Political Bureau Presidium, poses for a commemorative photograph at Pyongyang Airport on 22 May 2013, prior to his departure to Beijing as a “special envoy” of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. Members of Choe’s delegation to China are: Kim Hyong Jun (2) of the DPRK Foreign Ministry, Col. Gen. Ri Yong Gil (3) of the KPA General Staff, Kim Song Nam (4) of the KWP International Affairs Department and Lt. Gen. Kim Su Gil of the KPA (Photo: KCNA).
DPRK state media reported that a senior delegation led by VMar Choe Ryong Hae, Director of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Political Department, departed Pyongyang and arrived in Beijing on 22 May (Wednesday). VMar Choe, acting as a “special envoy for Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n),” was joined on the trip by Col. Gen. Ri Yong Gil (Chief of the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau), Kim Song Nam (Deputy Director of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] International Affairs Department with the portfolio for Chinese relations), Kim Hyong Jun (Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Lt. Gen. Kim Su Gil (KPA/Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces). Citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Beijing, Yonhap News Agency reported that after arriving in Beijing at around 10:30 AM, Choe and the delegation were driven to Diaoyutai Guest House. At the airport the DPRK delegation was received by DPRK Ambassador to the PRC Ji Jae Ryong and Deputy Director of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China [CPC] Central Committee.
VMar Choe Ryong Hae (1) shakes hands with Liu Jieyi (2), deputy director of the Communist Party of China Central Committee International Liaison Department, after arriving in Beijing on 22 May 2013. Also seen in attendance are Kim Song Nam (3) and Col. Gen. Ri Yong Gil (4) (Photo: KCNA).
Wang Jiarui (R), vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, meets with Choe Ryong Hae, special envoy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) top leader Kim Jong Un, and a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, in Beijing, capital of China, May 22, 2013. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)
Shortly after his arrival in Beijing, Choe Ryong Hae met with Wang Jiarui, head of the CPC Central Committee International Liaison Department. Details of the meeting were not disclosed in Chinese media.
During his visit, VMar Choe will most likely meet with senior Chinese officials including PRC President Xi Jinping. This is the first reported visit by a senior DPRK official acting as a representative for Kim Jong Un, since KJU formally became supreme leader in January 2012. Choe Ryong Hae and the members of the delegation are the most high level DPRK officials to publicly visit China since August 2012 when Jang Song Taek (Vice Chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and Director of the KWP Administration Department) led a large delegation on a weeklong visit in his capacity as the DPRK’s Chairman of the DPRK-China Joint Guidance Committee. Choe’s arrival in Beijing was the first publicized visit by the head of the KPA General Political Department since November 2009, when then-Gen. Kim Jong Gak led a KPA delegation on a visit to Beijing and to Jilin Province.
The visit to China by Choe Ryong Hae and the senior delegation occurred after a close adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the DPRK. Isao Ijima, an adviser to Abe with ties to the DPRK leadership, visited Pyongyang during 14 to 17 May. Ijima was unofficially accompanied on his DPRK visit by members of Chosen Soren (Chongryon), the pro-DPRK association of Korean residents in Japan. During his stay, Ijima met with KWP Secretary for International Affairs Kim Yong Il, Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium President Kim Yong Nam (the DPRK’s nominal head of state and #2 leading official) and DPRK Ambassador-at-Large (with the portfolio for DPRK-Japan interactions) Song Il Ho. Ijima’s visit to Pyongyang was criticized as “unhelpful” by the South Korean government and viewed with some ambivalence by the United States, however Ijima’s trip was supported by China with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying, “We hope tensions on the Korean Peninsula will be eased, and regional peace and stability will be secured through the contact (between Iijima and North Korea)We hope (the latest visit) will be beneficial for resolving problems, including the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Choe and the delegation also arrived in Beijing one day after the DPRK released a Chinese fishing trawler and its 16 crew members. The Dalian-based trawler “Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 2522″ and the crew members were captured in Chinese waters by an unknown group of DPRK pirates on 5 May 2013 and held until 21 May 2013. The captured fisherman were held for a $75,000 ransom that was not paid The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Chinese border security forces informed the DPRK about the trawler’s capture and demanded that DPRK authorities investigate the ship’s seizure. The incident was not publicized until the fishing boat’s owner wrote about it on his microblog. After the incident was publicized, the Chinese government requested that the DPRK release the trawler and its crew.
Choe Ryong Hae and the delegation’s visit to Beijing also occurs one month before Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to hold a meeting with US President Barack Obama and a possible summit in Beijing in June with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The Xi-Obama meeting has been scheduled for 7 June and 8 June at the former estate of Walter and Lee Annenberg, Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage, California. The South Korean government has yet to finalize a date and itinerary for Park Geun-hye’s visit to China in June. Park initially wanted a visit to China to be her first trip as ROK President, but instead she traveled to the United States on a six-day working visit in early May.
Choe Ryong Hae’s arrival in Beijing incited a round of speculation by Pyongyang watchers. Professor Lee Nam-joo told Yonhap “It may be the start of policies that can ease tensions and lead to dialogue. The envoy should be able to help reduce tensions which have reached unprecedented levels recently” and Professor Yang Moo-jin said that “Pyongyang may seek to highlight the close ‘blood alliance’ that existed between the two countries and seek an outlet for inter-Korea talks as well as dialogue with the United States.” Professor Yang also said that ”with Washington and Beijing expected to touch on North Korea at an upcoming summit meeting, the envoy can explain to China the North’s position, which may open new dialogue channels not only between Pyongyang and Washington but between South and North Korea.”
Talks between the DPRK delegation and senior Chinese officials will likely touch on strategic issues including the DPRK’s launch of a rocket/ballistic missile on 12 December 2013 and the 12 February 2013 test of a nuclear device. If China was hoping that a senior-level interaction would cause the DPRK to return to the Six Party Talks on denuclearization they are likely to find that Choe Ryong Hae’s visit may not bear the fruit that they seek. DPRK Ambassador to the Russian Federation Kim Yong Jae gave an interview with Russia’s Interfax news service, published on 21 May, in which he said, “The army and the people of North Korea, who are living in the conditions of permanent nuclear threats, sanctions and a blockade, will in every possible way reinforce nuclear deterrence forces that are destined to protect the sovereignty of the country and a right for the nation to exist, safeguard peace and promote stability in the region.”
Kim Yong Jae also said “The essence of the US strategy in Korea is to strangle North Korea. It is North Korea that is the first object in implementation of the [USA's] strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. The US global strategy is a strategy of domination of the whole planet and to implement it, a strategy of reorienting [the USA] to the Asia-Pacific region has been launched. In accordance with it, pressure is also being built up on China and Russia in the Northeast Asia and a special geopolitical role is assigned to the Korean peninsula” and that ”the people of this region, like other world peaceloving forces, not only failed to exert pressure on the USA to disrupt its large-scale military exercises, but also succumbed to the influence of a sophisticated information war to dishonour North Korea on the part of the USA and South Korea.”