Mongolia’s president had a busy four days in North Korea this week, meeting various officials and zipping around to Kim Il Sung University, a Pyongyang theater, the Munsu water fun park, the border with South Korea and Kim family mausoleum, among other places.
But after Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj had jetted out of Pyongyang on Thursday it became clear that he didn’t meet the one person expected to have capped it all: Kim Jong Un.
What’s with the apparent snub?
Experts say it may have something to do with North Korea’s ambivalent attitude towards the landlocked country to the north-west. The nomadic ancient Mongolians were considered barbarians by the Koreans, according to historians.
“North Korea doesn’t see Mongolia as superior or even an equal,” said Lee Yoon-geol, a North Korean refugee-turned-analyst in Seoul.
While Mongolia has been a traditional ally to North Korea it isn’t the first time Pyongyang has apparently snubbed Ulaanbaatar: In 2004, the North’s state media carried no mention of a meeting between North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong Il and Mongolia’s then-President Natsagiin Bagabandi during the latter’s visit to North Korea.
Like Mr. Bababandi, the current Mongolian president appears to have had to settle for a chat with the nominal North Korean second-in-command.
However the latest trip went, North Korean state media gave a polite account of the president’s visit on Friday.
“The DPRK side congratulated the Mongolian government and people on achieving socio-political stability, keeping a high rate of economic growth depending on its rich natural resources and raising its international position by pursuing independent and multi-faceted foreign policies under the correct guidance of the Mongolian president,” the state news organization reported. DPRK is the abbreviation for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea.
Various economic and cultural agreements were made at meetings this week, according to the two nations’ news media accounts, but their details weren’t publicized.
Chang Yong-suk, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said North Korea is likely saving the first-summit card for China or Russia.
In July, the North Korean dictator met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, believed to be the most senior official to speak with the North Korean leader since the death of Kim Jong Il in December 2011.
That’s unless you consider that Dennis Rodman outranks Mr. Li.
Source: Wall Street Journal Blog