N. Korea strengthens diplomatic ties with Africa

SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is moving to strengthen its diplomatic ties with African countries in a bid to escape international isolation brought on by its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, observers said Tuesday.

There has been a constant flow of senior North Korean officials visiting Africa this year, with the North's state media outlets including the Rodong Sinmun highlighting the huge economic growth potential of the continent.

On Saturday, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported that a delegation led by Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun left for unspecified African nations, while earlier in the month, Kim Ki-nam, a member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central

Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, visited Equatorial Guinea and met its president.

Emphasis on Africa comes as the North has been slapped by economic sanctions that have effectively blocked its economic cooperation with most countries.

Strengthened United Nations and United States sanctions were imposed on the North this year in response to Pyongyang's December satellite launch and its third nuclear weapons test in February.

"The North has long shown interest in Africa and that this tilt is still exerting itself despite the weakening of the non-aligned movement," Kim Gye-dong, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, said.

Others pointed out that North Korean senior officials from the ruling party, the government and the military have been paying visits, which is in contrast to the single high-profile visit made by Ri Yong-su, department director of the ruling party's central committee, to Namibia in November 2012.

Reflecting the importance Africa has for the North, the Rodong Sinmun stressed the so-called South-South cooperation between developing economies is a "movement of the times" and that strengthening ties is the only way for the countries to grow.

The paper pointed out that Africa has the natural resources and the population to pull off growth in the coming years.

It also said that the growing clout of the African nations cannot be ignored in the international arena.

Despite such moves, some experts said that the North's influence on Africa has dramatically weakened after the breakup of the Cold War structure.

"Pyongyang cannot provide the kind of economic assistance to African countries in the post-Cold War era, so its relations can only remain perfunctory," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>