2017-12-08 15:03
Kim Jong-un shuns meetings with visitors
Kim Jong-un avoids meetings with UN official, Xi's envoy

By Yi Whan-woo

The ongoing visit of U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to North Korea is raising a question about why the country’s leader Kim Jong-un repeatedly refuses to meet high-profile international visitors.

There has been no sign of a possible meeting between Kim and Feltman as of Thursday, although the U.N. envoy is scheduled to wrap up his four-day trip to Pyongyang and return to the U.N., today.

Feltman was only scheduled to meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and other relevant Pyongyang officials to discuss a wide range of issues in the wake of the Kim regime’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test, Nov. 29.

Observers speculated that Feltman may meet Kim, given that he is the highest-ranking U.N. official to enter North Korea since 2010 and also that the impoverished regime is seen as desperate to end the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions over its nuclear program.

It is becoming apparent that Feltman will join several other high-profile visitors whom Pyongyang’s seclusive leader has refused to meet. They include Song Tao, the head of the international department at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Lee Hee-ho, the widow of the late President Kim Dae-jung.

Song visited North Korea as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s special envoy in mid-November after Xi was given another five-year term at the CPC congress in October.

Lee made a four-day trip to North Korea in August 2015 on humanitarian grounds after Kim invited her in a personal letter.

Analysts said the reasons behind Kim’s refusals vary depending on circumstances, such as possible repercussions to be brought on by the political situation in Pyongyang, protocol issues and the purpose of the visitors’ trip.

“Regarding Feltman, it does not matter that he is the highest-ranking U.N. official to travel to Pyongyang over the past few years. He is still not in a position to meet a head of state and it is no surprise that Kim is not meeting him,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Paik Ha-soon, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, agreed, saying, “Kim has no reason to meet a U.N. undersecretary-general or those in equivalent rank unless they can make a decision on their own regarding issues of North Korea’s fate.”

Yang claimed that possible talks between Kim and Feltman could only annoy the former in his pursuit of his nuclear ambitions.

“It is so evident Feltman would urge Kim to stop the nuclear and missile programs if they meet. And Kim may fear that their possible meeting would be seen as a sign of Pyongyang giving up its nuclear ambitions,” he said.

Regarding Kim’s snub of Song, the experts agreed with media reports that the young despot was displeased with Xi for not offering diplomatic cover as China joined the UNSC sanctions.

The analysts pointed out that Kim greeted Xi’s previous envoy to Pyongyang, Liu Yunshan, in October 2015 during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party.

“In that regard, Kim’s refusal was a political message to China,” Yang said.

The North Korean leader’s refusal to meet with Lee triggered rampant speculation in Seoul, given the relationship between his late father Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung, such as holding the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

Then-liberal opposition parties blamed then-conservative Park Geun-hye administration for “playing down” Lee’s visit to North Korea by saying it was “on a personal level” and would not represent the government before she departed to Pyongyang.

The parties accused the Park government of disparaging Lee’s possible role in thawing inter-Korean ties.

“It was appropriate for Kim Jong-un to meet Lee back then, especially considering he was the one who invited her,” Yang said. “But it also makes sense that Kim is not responsible for meeting every individual who travels to his country for personal reasons.”

Meanwhile, former NBA star Dennis Rodman met Kim several times when he visited North Korea. The former basketball player is believed to be the only American to have met Kim, a die-hard basketball fan, since he seized power in December 2011.