North Korea names Ri Ryong Nam new ambassador to China

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Feb. 19 (UPI) — North Korea has appointed a new ambassador to China for the first time in a decade, less than a month after reports suggested China appointed a new envoy to Pyongyang.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said on its website Friday Ri Ryong Nam, 61, a former trade minister, has been selected to the top diplomatic post in Beijing.

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Ri is a veteran in the North Korea’s external economic relations. His appointment to the ambassadorship is an indicator North Korea intends to strengthen cooperation with China, its biggest trading partner, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

Ri was appointed trade minister in 2008 and was responsible for attracting foreign capital to the North, under then-leader Kim Jong Il. After the trade ministry was renamed the ministry of external economic relations in 2014, Ri served as external economic relations minister. In 2019, Ri was named vice premier of the North Korean Cabinet and oversaw economic ties with the outside world, according to Newsis.

North Korea has made other personnel changes that indicate plans to deepen economic ties with China. Kim Song Nam, a North Korean expert on China, was named the Workers’ Party’s international director earlier this year. Kim was also named an alternate member of Pyongyang’s Politburo, according to Kyodo News.

Ri replaces Ji Jae Ryong in Beijing, who has served as ambassador since 2010. Ri’s appointment represents a generational shift in North Korean politics, according to Newsis’ analysis.

Kim Jong Un revealed a new five-year economic plan for North Korea in January. New campaigns to drum up support for Kim’s policies are being highlighted in state media.

Workers’ Party paper Rodong Sinmun reported Friday youth groups held rallies to promote state plans, describing the campaigns as a “red wave” across the country. Groups carried banners that read, “Let us follow Comrade Kim Jong Un and complete the feat of Juche Revolution.”

Kim apologized last month for failures of the previous five-year plan, launched in 2016.