Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr welcomed North Korea’s bid to reopen its embassy in Canberra, saying the move would allow for talks on human rights abuses in the Asian nation.
“It would enable us to express our deep concerns about what we see as a catastrophic position on human rights,” Carr said in an e-mailed statement. Australia received a request for re-opening the embassy and a time-frame for doing so hasn’t been determined, his ministry said.
The diplomatic overture comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeks to improve an economy battered by international sanctions imposed over his regime’s nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile tests. Australia suspended development aid to the totalitarian state in 2002 and trade is “negligible,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
North Korea closed its embassy in Canberra in 2008 for financial reasons, while Australia’s ambassador to South Korea is also accredited to the North. The country has about 50 embassies, consulates or missions in Asia, Europe, Africa and North and South America, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
“The world should be open to any overtures from North Korea but it should be cautious,” said Bruce Jacobs, professor of Asian languages and studies at Melbourne’s Monash University. “Expectations shouldn’t be too high due to North Korea’s track record of breaking promises.”
Carr said today North Korean gulags and concentration camps have an estimated 200,000 political prisoners “in conditions dominated by starvation and execution,” echoing United Nations figures. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay this week called for an independent inquiry into North Korean abuses.
North Korea has an economy about one-fortieth the size of South Korea’s. Kim said in a New Year speech that improving the economy and better relations with South Korea were top policy goals for his second year as leader.
The previous embassy in the Canberra suburb of O’Malley wasn’t a permanent diplomatic site with a lease under the Commonwealth. It was a commercial property that will only be available if the owner agrees to rent again, according to Gary Rake, the chief executive of the National Capital Authority, which oversees the placing of embassies.
The authority is yet to receive an application to open a new embassy, he said.