North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have disappeared from the public eye, but his diplomatic representatives sure haven’t.
There’s Ri Su Yong, who’s been everywhere from Burma and Indonesia to Ethiopia and Iran since he became foreign minister in April. Last month, he addressed the United Nations, the first North Korean to do so in 15 years, and on Friday, he wrapped up 10 days in Russia.
There’s Kang Sok Ju, the international affairs secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and then met the Mongolian president in Beijing on his way home.
And then there are the top officials — including the No. 2 (Hwang Pyong So) and No. 3 (Choe Ryong Hae) behind Kim — who showed up in South Korea last weekend, meeting with the prime minister and unification minister and promising to talk again soon.
Kim himself hasn’t been seen in five weeks, and on Friday, he failed to show up for the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party. The state-run Korean Central News Agency notably left Kim’s name off a list of dignitaries who paid their respects to his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, at the mausoleum where their bodies lie.
It has become a ritual for top leaders to go to the mausoleum — a huge, marble-lined palace on the outskirts of Pyongyang officially known as the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun — just after midnight as the anniversary begins. But the news agency reported only that a basket of flowers bearing the current leader’s name was placed before statues of the first two Kims. It was the first time since he succeeded his father almost three years ago that Kim Jong Un had missed the event.
Still, North Korea is embarking on the most intensive outreach since Kim took over, and most analysts agree that such frenzied activity abroad would be unlikely if there were real turmoil at home.
“This is the most active period of foreign diplomatic activity that we’ve seen out of Kim Jong Un for sure,” said Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “They’re really reaching out, and the question is why. What’s motivating them? I don’t think anybody knows for sure.”