North Korea’s No. 2 Official to Visit Indonesia, Singapore

North Korea’s second-highest ranking official will travel to Indonesia and Singapore in what may be an effort by the totalitarian regime to seek support and guidance in improving its impoverished economy.

Kim Yong Nam, President of the Supreme People’s Assembly, will visit Indonesia at the invitation of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono from May 13 until May 16, Yudhoyono’s office said today in an e-mailed statement. Kim will also go to Singapore, the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday, becoming the most high-profile official to travel overseas since Kim Jong Un took over as leader in December.

North Korea’s isolation has deepened since the United Nations expanded sanctions and the U.S. scrapped a food aid deal in response to last month’s failed rocket launch. With an economy one-fortieth the size of South Korea’s, the government may use Kim Yong Nam’s trip to learn more about Singapore and Indonesia’s development, said analysts including Cho Bong Hyun.

“Kim is the diplomatic face of the country and his visit may be a way for the North to make arrangements for its officials to study these two countries’ economic policies,” said Cho, a researcher at the IBK Economic Research Institute in Seoul.

Singapore is North Korea’s third-largest trading partner after China and South Korea, according to the U.S. State Department.

“North Korea has been trying to arrange educational exchange programs with the Singaporean government on finance, international law and ways to attract foreign investment,” Cho added. “Indonesia’s economic strong suit is using its national resources and North Korea can definitely learn from them.”

North Korea has become a magnet for Chinese enterprises thanks to its mineral reserves valued at more than $6 trillion, according to South Korean state-owned mining company Korea Resources Corp. Of the 138 Chinese enterprises registered as doing business in North Korea in 2010, 41 percent extract coal, iron, zinc, nickel, gold and other minerals, according to the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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