The Jakarta Post
Amid nuclear deadlock between North Korea and world's major powers, Indonesia has shown its eagerness to have more engagement with the secretive nation, particularly in seeking closer economic ties.
During a three-day visit to the country on Oct. 21-23, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa underlined the need to explore more economic opportunities between the two countries, saying that bilateral trade had increased in the last five years.
'Bilateral trade has grown more than 45 percent. It's been proving a real example of our potential
for economic cooperation,' Marty said in a written statement after a meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun in Pyongyang on Tuesday.
To realize that need, Marty proposed to send an Indonesian business delegation to North Korea to explore more opportunities. The proposal is in line with North Korea's plan to open a special economic zone in each of its provinces.
North Korea and Indonesia have maintained friendly relations since the mid 1960s, when North Korea founder Kim Il-sung visited Jakarta. Marty, on his first trip to the country, carried a letter from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono saying peace in the region was a precondition to economic development.
According to Bloomberg, North Korea plans to jointly build a high-tech industrial park and a highway between Pyongyang and its airport with a consortium of foreign firms, including some in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Marty's trip comes amid a nuclear deadlock between North Korea and major powers such as the US and China. After conducting its third nuclear test in February, North Korea came under tougher United Nations sanctions and continues to refuse US and South Korean demands to roll back its weapons program before international negotiations can restart.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) statement indicates 'North Korea still isn't willing to invite nuclear monitors or stop testing nuclear devices before resuming' talks on its weapons program, said Oh Gyeong-seob, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute just south of Seoul. 'It won't be easy for Indonesia to achieve what North Korea's top ally, China, hasn't been able to,' Oh said.
The country's official media made mention of Marty's trip in several reports, saying he visited a palace in Pyongyang where former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie in state, and paid tribute.
'The president of the Republic of Indonesia emphasizes the need for breakthroughs to intensify communication between the two Korean nations, including through non-traditional ways,' Marty said in a statement. He also met with Kim Yong-nam, the president of North Korea's parliament.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited Indonesia earlier this month and called on the country to 'play a role that helps North Korea make the right choice', according to the website of her presidential office.
North Korea in 2009 formally abandoned international nuclear disarmament talks that would provide the impoverished nation with economic aid. The US and South Korea say new six-nation talks ' that include China, Russia and Japan ' should not be held until the North starts rolling back its nuclear arms program.
The North restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, a South Korean ruling party lawmaker Cho Won-jin said earlier this month, citing information from his country's National Intelligence Service. Running the reactor at Yongbyon would mean the North is making good on promises made in April to restart the facility as part of efforts to produce energy and improve its nuclear armed force.
'It's possible that North Korea may have invited Marty to offset the influence of South Korea in the Southeast Asian region,' Hwang Jae-ho, an international relations professor at Seoul's Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said yesterday by phone.
'That region has a host of countries that together can be influential in the circle of international diplomacy,' Hwang said.