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North Korea's Ri Ryong Nam begins ambassadorship to China after quarantine

Ri Ryong Nam, North Korea’s new ambassador to China, presented his credentials to China’s foreign ministry this week, according to Beijing. File Photo by Mast Irham/EPA-EFE
Ri Ryong Nam, North Korea’s new ambassador to China, presented his credentials to China’s foreign ministry this week, according to Beijing. File Photo by Mast Irham/EPA-EFE

March 18 (UPI) -- North Korea's new ambassador to China presented his credentials and began his term in Beijing, according to the Chinese government.

Ri Ryong Nam, 61, submitted his documents in his first public appearance after he arrived in China last month, the Chinese foreign ministry website shows, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

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Ri, an expert on North Korea's economic relations with the outside world, arrived in China on Feb. 18. The North Korean diplomat has been in mandatory COVID-19 quarantine since his arrival, the report said.

The ambassador previously served as Pyongyang's trade minister under former leader Kim Jong Il. Ri has experience attracting foreign capital to the North. In China, he is expected to expand economic ties with North Korea's biggest trading partner, according to South Korean analysis.

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After the trade ministry was renamed the ministry of external economic relations in 2014, Ri served as external economic relations minister. In 2019, he was named vice premier of the North Korean Cabinet and oversaw economic ties with the outside world.

Ri was serving in government when North Korea targeted high-ranking officials, including Kim Jong Un's uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek, in 2013. Jang's support for Chinese-style reforms in the North angered Kim, who ordered Jang's execution and charged him with "counterrevolutionary" acts.

China and North Korea are cultivating ties at a time when the United States is urging Beijing to do more to encourage North Korean denuclearization.

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"Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest in helping to pursue denuclearization of" North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Seoul on Thursday.

North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui issued her first statement of the year Thursday, rejecting talks with the United States because of Washington's "hostile policy."

"We have already declared our stand that no [U.S.-North Korea] contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy," Choe said.

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Biden administration officials have called for the complete denuclearization of North Korea.

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