Sweden's ambassador
2024-07-18 06:51:47

 Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Wang Yajun,<strong></strong> right, shakes hands with Sweden's Ambassador-designate to Pyongyang Andreas Bengtsson in Pyongyang, Feb. 29. Yonhap

Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Wang Yajun, right, shakes hands with Sweden's Ambassador-designate to Pyongyang Andreas Bengtsson in Pyongyang, Feb. 29. Yonhap

Sweden's ambassador-designate to Pyongyang has been visiting North Korea amid prospects that European countries may reopen their diplomatic missions in the reclusive country following years of North Korea's COVID-19 border shutdown.

Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Wang Yajun met with the Swedish envoy, Andreas Bengtsson, on Wednesday and discussed the issue of the Korean Peninsula, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang said on its website.

Earlier this week, a German diplomat in charge of East Asia affairs visited North Korea in the first known case that a Western diplomat has visited Pyongyang since the reclusive nation closed its border in January 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some European countries that established diplomatic relations with North Korea, such as Britain and Sweden, have pulled out of Pyongyang in early 2020 due to the North's COVID-19 restrictions.

North Korea began opening its border partially in August last year, but it has only permitted China, Russia, Cuba and Mongolia to resume diplomatic activities in Pyongyang.

South Korea's unification ministry said North Korea's permission for Western diplomats to visit the North might be related to the latest establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Cuba.

Earlier this month, South Korea established diplomatic relations with Cuba in a surprise announcement that could be a blow to Pyongyang, which has long boasted brotherly ties with the Caribbean nation.

"Since COVID-19 was brought under control last year, European countries have been sounding out the possibility of reopening their diplomatic missions in North Korea via various channels. But North Korea has shown no reaction," an official at the ministry told reporters.

"But given that North Korea has recently showed signs of opening its door, it could be a response to the establishment of the Seoul-Havana ties," he added.

Experts said North Korea may not overtly express its complaints to Cuba, but its relations with Cuba may not be the same as before as the news came at a time when Pyongyang newly defined South Korea as its "primary foe."

Seoul's foreign ministry said the government is paying close attention to such developments and communicating with international organizations about the ongoing situation.

Some diplomatic sources said the trips to Pyongyang by some European delegations are more likely related to maintenance purposes to check their facilities that had been shut down since the pandemic.

"As for international organizations, they need North Korea to allow them to go to provincial areas, but apparently they still can't do that," a diplomatic source said.

"In this context, it can be seen as working visits by the delegations that include technicians to check the facilities at their diplomatic missions in the North, rather than a sign of improvement in bilateral relations," the source said. (Yonhap)