Picking up on South Korean government sources, the Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) in Beijing reports that Kim Jong-un may be taking his first foreign trip as head of state this coming April. More information about the conference, which in part appears to be anniversary celebration of the famous Bandung Conference of 1955, is here (in English), and a reasonably decent breakdown of the story (also in English) was published a few hours ago by a Russian state-owned outlet. Jakarta and Bandung are the cities which he is alleged to be considering visiting.
Last year I predicted that Kim Jong-un’s first such trip might be to Mongolia. More recently, the rumor mill is running overtime with rumors of a Moscow visit in May 2015. It certainly seems clear that China is not going to be his first port of call, marking another small but significant break with DPRK diplomatic tradition.
Happily, Foreign Policy reporter Isaac Stone Fish has been in Davos this week talking to elites about a possible Kim Jong-un visit to any given World Economic Forum event. Stone Fish gets into the scanty history of North Korean participation in such events, focusing on the visit of Kim Jong-u (not a misprint) to Davos in 1997.
Why bring up the Foreign Policy piece in the context of the new report, exactly? Because the World Economic Forum is in fact holding a regional meeting in Bali, Indonesia, at precisely the same time that Kim Jong-un is allegedly due to be in Bandung. Indonesia being an absolutely massive country, the conferences are 1,000 kilometers apart, but as we all now know, Kim Jong-un is something of an aerophile and he very evidently has jet fuel to burn.
In the meantime, one can re-read the wide-angle work of Charles Armstrong about North Korea’s relations with what used to be called ‘the Third World‘ and recall that Kim Il-sung took a trip to Indonesia in 1965. Fortunately for North Korean propagandists and hagiographers, the old guerrilla fighter and North Korean state founder brought his young son Kim Jong-il (who had just graduated from the university that bears his father’s name) along with him.
As we well know, nothing can be publicly justified in North Korea without solemn reference to the ‘footsteps’ or desires of the great departed leaders, including the presence of Kim Jong-un’s younger sister among the pantheon of new elites. I wonder if the young leader trusts her grip on power, and her own loyalties and tendencies, sufficiently to leave her back in Pyongyang while he trods again in the footsteps, troughs, trenches and ruts created by his forefathers.